When dealing with Muslims it is wise to understand some of the approaches used by them to discredit Christianity. Much could be written on each of the following subjects with numerous examples. But, instead, I will simply expound on the areas common among Muslim approaches and point out what to watch for.
No. 1 Attack the validity of the Bible
This is expected. If the Muslim can undermine the strength and integrity of God's word, then it would be much easier for him to win arguments, confound the Christian, and make converts of those who don't know the truth and power of the Bible. This is what the devil did in the Garden of Eden. Satan said, "You truly will not die," (Gen. 3:4). I am not calling Muslims satanic. I am simply pointing out that that is how deception begins, by bringing doubt upon God's word, and that this is exactly what Muslims do. They try and get people to doubt the Bible and then tell you how great Islam is. Various methods are used here to accomplish this:
Stating that the Bible has numerous contradictions Of course, I cannot go through all the alleged Bible contradictions here. But my observation has been that the majority of "biblical contradictions" raised by Muslims are nothing more than examples of their lack of understanding of biblical theology and context. Always read the context of verses. Don't let a Muslim simply state that there are contradictions and leave it at that. Ask him to give you one. If you cannot answer it, do research and get back to him. Sure, there are some tough areas of scripture, but there are no contradictions in God's word.1
Criticizing the lack of original manuscripts The point here is that because we do not have the original manuscripts of the Bible, we cannot really know what the originals said and, therefore, the Bible could have been corrupted. They then compare the Bible to the Qur’an and state that the Qur’an is the guaranteed, preserved, direct word of Allah given by the angel Gabriel to Muhammad. Of course, what they fail to mention is
- The Bible documents are well attested as being reliable and accurate. (See the book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.)
- Regarding the Qur’an, Muhammad couldn't read or write, so he recited the Qur’an to people who then wrote it down. There is no evidence at all that the Qur’an was written down in its entirety in Muhammad's lifetime and compiled as a unit. So how could he have verified its truth?
- Shortly after Muhammad's death, the Muslim Uthman ordered all sets of the Qur’an manuscripts to be destroyed except the codex of Zaid. Why? Is it because Zaid's copy was better? If so, how do we know? Did differences in the copies arise so quickly that discrepancies were evident and Uthman recognized the need for a standardized copy lest Islam suffer division? It raises doubt on the Qur’an's supposed incorruptibility.
- Muslims claim that Allah said the Qur’an would be preserved. But, the mere claim is not enough. It is using the Qur’an to substantiate the Qur’an which is circular reasoning.
Claiming that the Bible is false because it contradicts the Qur’an. This is simply begging the question. That means that one assumes the validity of the thing that he is trying to prove. The Muslim assumes the validity of the Qur’an and because it contradicts the Bible, therefore the Bible is wrong. Well, the Christian can just as easily state that the Qur’an is wrong because it contradicts the Bible. But the Muslims would not accept that. Therefore, why should we accept their argument?
No. 2 Attempt to set Paul against Jesus
Muslims often make the claim that Paul never met Jesus and was not a disciple or apostle of Jesus. Of course, this is not true. Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, after Jesus' resurrection. Jesus spoke to him and commissioned him. So, Paul met Jesus. Also, Peter, who was a disciple of Jesus, authenticated Paul's writings by calling them scripture in 2 Pet. 3:15-16. If they are inspired, then they cannot contradict Jesus' words.
In addition, many Muslims claim that Jesus never claimed to be God and that Paul is the one who wrote that Jesus was God. First of all, if they admit that Paul wrote that Jesus was God, then remind them of 2 Pet. 3:15-16 where Peter calls Paul's writings Scripture. Nevertheless, they sometimes assert that Paul hijacked Christianity and took it over and made Jesus into something He was not. This claim is false. Perhaps the primary area where Muslims think Paul and Jesus contradict is in the area of who Jesus is. Paul states that Jesus is God in flesh: Col. 2:9 says, "For in Him the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form." Muslims assert that no where in the Gospels did Jesus claim to be God. Therefore, they claim, Paul's words are not true and the Bible is not trustworthy. This attack by Muslims is an attack based out of opinion.
Jesus did claim to be God In John 8:56-59, it says, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." 57The Jews therefore said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" 58Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am" 59Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple."2 Why did the Pharisees want to kill Jesus? They explain their reason in John 10:33 when they say, "For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God," (KJV). Whether or not the Muslim will accept this, let alone agree that this is correct, matters little because his presupposition will not allow him to accept, no matter what. Nevertheless, the text clearly states that the Pharisees understood that Jesus was claiming to be God. Also, consider John 5:18 where the Apostle John says, "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God," (KJV). In this verse Jesus healed on the Sabbath and the Pharisees thought He was breaking the Sabbath law. John the Apostle also states that when Jesus claimed that God was His Father, that it was "making himself equal with God." The Muslim will always find a way to argue out of these texts. But, two facts remain. First, Jesus claimed to be God. Second, the Pharisees denied that Jesus was God and the Muslims agree with them. There are other areas that the Muslims will say are where Jesus and Paul do not agree, but when they bring it up, always ask for an example. Each time I've done this, I've discovered that the Muslim did not have a sufficient understanding of what the text is saying. Remember, always read the context.
No. 3 Misrepresentation of Christian doctrine
Sadly, this is a very common error of the Muslims. The single greatest instance of this is in the doctrine of the Trinity. Muslims so often attack a false understanding of the Trinity by stating that it is three gods. That is not the correct Christian definition of the Trinity doctrine. Christianity does not teach there are three gods. It never has and it never will. The doctrine of the Trinity is that there is only one God who exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Trinitarianism is monotheistic. If a Muslim continues to proclaim that the Trinity is three gods, then I simply stop discussing the issue with him because he is not willing to accept what the definition is and it isn't possible to have a meaningful dialogue.
Another Christian doctrine they fail to understand is the Hypostatic Union. This is the teaching that Jesus is one person with two natures. He is both God and man as is declared in Col. 2:9, "For in Him [Jesus] dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Because Jesus was also a man, we have verses such as John 14:28 where Jesus says "the Father is greater than I." Muslims will say that if Jesus is God, how could He be greater than Himself? Of course, they fail to understand the Trinity (three persons) and they fail to understand that Jesus, as a man (Phil. 2:5-8), cooperated with the limitations of being a man and was in a lower position than the Father (Heb. 2:9) for a while. Sometimes Muslims refuse to accept Christian explanations for things because it doesn't fit their agenda nor their preconceived ideas of what they think Christianity is. Oddly enough, Christians often contribute to this problem by offering inadequate and sometimes erring explanations of Christian doctrine. Thus, many Muslims are led into error regarding what Christianity really teaches. Christians need to know their doctrine, and Muslims need to understand the proper explanations for those doctrines.
No. 4 Misinterpreting various Scripture passages
A very good example of misrepresentation of biblical passages can be found in a dialogue I had with a Muslim regarding John 1:1, 14. These verses say, "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God." Verse 14 says "and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." The Muslim I was speaking to reasoned thus:
If the word is God then we can insert the word "god" into the verse each time it says "word." Therefore, we would have it say 'In the beginning was the God and the God was with God and God was God.' As you can see, this makes no sense. Therefore, when you go to verse 14 where it says the word became flesh, it cannot mean that God became flesh, because John 1:1 makes no sense."
As you can see, this kind of logic is very bad. First of all, John 1:1 does not say what he said it does. It does not speak in contradictory terms the way he tried to make it sound. Instead, it uses both the word "word" and the word "god" in the sentence. I told him that he needed to go with what the text does say and not with what it does not say. In other words, he reconstructed it in such a way as to purposely not make sense and then he attacked that.
Another verse, or verses, that they misinterpret is when Jesus says that He is the Son of God. To the Muslim, this means that God literally had a wife and produced a literal son. Of course, this is not what is meant by the biblical account. Son ship is in relation to the Fatherhood of God in a spiritual and metaphoric sense. After all, Jesus says that God is spirit (John 4;24). Of course, God would not have a body of flesh and bones with which to procreate children. What the Muslims are guilty of doing is imposing Islamic understandings upon biblical texts and then complaining about the biblical texts in light of how they interpret them. This is not how one should go about "refuting the opposition." Rather, the Muslim should seek to understand the biblical/cultural context and deal with the issue from that perspective not a fabricated one as this example shows.
Sadly, Christianity is not in complete unity in all things which is why we have denominations. I am dismayed at the fragmentation within Christianity and think it is a poor witness to the world. But, the fact is that differences of opinions among Christians do occur. In fact, we are allowed to have differences of opinion according to God's word found in Rom. 14: 1-13. True Christians are all united in the essentials of the faith and are often divided on the non-essentials. This does not mean we are not all Christians, but that we have differences of opinions on some things. However, in the 1500s, there was a major split in the Catholic church. It was called the Reformation. (..). When Muslims say "Christians believe ...", be careful that they do not make too broad a generalization as they continue their attack.
No. 6 Claim their logic is correct and Christian logic is incorrect
Many Muslims have told me that what I am saying about God, Salvation, the Bible, etc., isn't logical. Now, perhaps some things I say are not logical. But, I've not heard any convincing arguments yet demonstrating what is and is not logical regarding Christian doctrine. Usually, the Muslim will simply say that Jesus having two natures is not logical or that the Trinity being three persons doesn't make sense. But saying so doesn't make it so. There is nothing illogical about a part of God being able to become a person and add human nature to Himself. It may not be the easiest thing in the world to understand, but it is not illogical. Neither does saying that the Trinity is three persons is illogical make it so. Surely anyone would agree that when we encounter God and His self revelation there will be things that are difficult to understand. The Trinity certainly falls under that category. But, the Trinity doctrine is not against logic. It would be illogical to say that one God is three gods, or that one person is three persons. But that is not what Christianity teaches. I've found that when dialoguing with Muslims and when reading their material against Christianity, that their claim to know real logic is really an extension of their Muslim thought and not a mastery of logic at all.
No. 7 Switching topics when challenged
Sometimes when discussing subjects that Muslims find difficult to answer, they will quickly change the subject. Very often this change involves attacking the Bible. Other times they will testify that they know Islam is true or they will simply say that you do not known what you are talking about. But when they change the subject you must be patient. Lovingly bring them back to the subject at hand. I have had to do this many times when discussing Islam with Muslims. This is a small but very important point. Too many Christians fall into the trap of allowing themselves to be diverted from the subject at hand. Do not let a Muslim simply ignore a question and start a new subject when it gets tough. Likewise, Christians should not simply change the subject when it gets difficult for them either. Instead, if you do not know the answer to a question, simply admit it. Go to some research and then get back with them. Always remember to be gracious. You will not win the Muslim to the Lord with cruelty and rudeness. And remember that we are in the spiritual battle. Love and truth in the name of Jesus is more powerful than any perfect answer. When dialoguing with Muslims, please remember to be respectful and patient. But, check everything they say and listen to them. They do not have the market cornered on truth, even though they think they do.
(1) There is an exception due to a textual copyist error. In 2 Chr. 36:9, it states that "Jehoiachin was eight years old when he became king," and 2 Kings 24:8, states that "Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king..." This is not an error in the original manuscripts. Most likely, one of the small horizontal strokes used in recording numbers during the time of Chronicles writing was either smudged out or faded. (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, by Gleason Archer, Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI., 1982, page 215.)
2. Note: in Exodus 3:14 God says, "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of