"THE GOSPEL OF MARK" The Crucifixion Of Jesus (15:21-32) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                  The Crucifixion Of Jesus (15:21-32)


1. Thus far in Mark’s account of the passion of Christ, we have seen...
   a. The agonizing prayer in the garden of Gethsemane - Mk 14:32-42
   b. The betrayal of Judas and arrest in the garden - Mk 14:43-50
   c. The beating and mocking at Caiaphas’ house - Mk 14:65
   d. The denial by Peter - Mk 14:66-72
   e. The scourging, beating, and mocking by Roman soldiers - Mk 15:15-20

2. By this time Jesus would have been physically exhausted...
   a. Awake for more than 24 hours
   b. Suffering from the beatings and scourging already inflicted

[But the worse was yet to come; condemned to death by crucifixion, the
Roman soldiers led him to the place where He would be crucified (Mk
15:20).  With the aid of Mark’s text, let us follow Him...]


      1. Jesus started out bearing His cross - cf. Jn 19:17
         a. Likely the wooden crosspiece (patibulum), weighing 30-40
         b. But it proved too much for Him
      2. Simon of Cyrene compelled to bear it for Him - Mk 15:21
         a. Mark identifies him as the father of Alexander and Rufus
         b. The latter possibly known to the church in Rome - cf. Ro 16:13

      1. A place near (outside) the city - cf. Jn 19:20
      2. Golgotha a modified transliteration of the Aramaic word for
         "skull" - Mk 15:22
      3. Calvary comes from the Latin word for "skull" - cf. Lk 23:33

      1. A narcotic drink was sometimes offered to criminals to deaden
         the pain of crucifixion
      2. Jesus was offered such a drink, but refused - Mk 15:23
      3. Perhaps choosing to experience the ordeal of crucifixion with
         His full senses

[Next we read of...]


      1. "They crucified Him" - Mk 15:24,25
      2. Amazingly restrained, as are the other gospel writers! 
          - Mt 27:35; Lk 23:33; Jn 19:18
      3. Especially when it was "the cruelest and most hideous
         punishment possible" - Cicero

      1. Simon is ordered to place the cross beam on the ground, and
         Jesus is quickly thrown backwards with His shoulders against
         the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front
         of the wrist. He drives the heavy, square, wrought-iron nail
         through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moves to
         the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to
         pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and
         movement. The cross beam is then lifted in place at the top of
         the vertical beam The left foot is pressed backward against
         the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail
         is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees
         moderately flexed. The Victim is now crucified. As He slowly
         sags down with more weight on the nails and the wrists,
         excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the
         arms to explode in the brain--the nails in the wrists are
         putting pressure on the median nerves.
      2. As he pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment,
         He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again
         there is searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves
         between the metatarsal bones of the feet. At this point,
         another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, great waves of
         cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep,
         relentless throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the
         inability to push Himself upward. Air can be drawn into the
         lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in
         order to get even one small breath. Finally carbon dioxide
         builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps
         partially subside. Spasmodically He is able to push Himself
         upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.
      3. Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending
         cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as
         tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down
         against the rough timber. Then another agony begins. A deep
         crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills
         with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost
         over--the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level--
         the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick,
         sluggish blood into the tissues--the tortured lungs are making
         a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The body of
         Jesus is now in extremis, and He can feel the chill of death
         creeping through His tissues His mission of atonement has been
         completed. Finally He can allow His body to die. - C. Truman
         Davis, "The Crucifixion of Jesus. The Passion of Christ from a
         Medical Point of View," Arizona Medicine 22, no. 3 March 1965:
         186-87, as quoted in The Expositor's Bible Commentary Vol. 8,
         ed. by Frank Gaebelein ([1984] pp. 779-80.

[Even the doctor’s description cannot adequately express what suffering
Jesus endured on the cross for our sins.  Before we close, let’s
summarize what else is revealed surrounding the crucifixion...]


      1. When they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting
         lots - Mk 15:24
      2. As foretold by David - Ps 22:18

   B. THE TIME...
      1. Mark says it was the "third hour" - Mk 15:25
      2. This would be 9am in the morning

      1. Pilate had the charge or accusation made against Jesus posted
         on the cross
      2. It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin - Jn 19:20
      3. Each of the gospel writers record the inscription slightly
         a. Mark:  "The King of the Jews" - Mk 15:26
         b. Matthew:  "This is Jesus the King of the Jews" - Mt 27:37
         c. Luke:  "This is the King of the Jews" - Lk 23:38
         d. John:  "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" - Jn 19:20
      4. Reconciling the apparent discrepancy
         a. The full inscription may have been "This is Jesus of
            Nazareth the King of the Jews"
         b. Written in three languages, it may have been abbreviated,
            and each gospel writer simply chose that which reflected
            his purpose in his gospel

      1. Two robbers were crucified with Jesus - Mk 15:27-28
      2. Possibly co-insurrectionists with Barabbas who had been

      1. Those who passed by, with the false charge made against him -
         Mk 15:29; 14:57-58
      2. The chief priests and scribes, taunting Jesus to make them
         believe - Mk 15:31-32
      3. Even the two thieves, though one later recanted - Mk 15:32; cf.
         Lk 23:39-43


1. Thus begins the six hours that will result in the death of Jesus...
   a. An excruciating death in of itself
   b. Made worse by the beatings and scourging, the mocking before and

2. What can we learn from this terrible event...?
   a. The terribleness of the guilt of sin - Ro 3:23; 6:23
   b. The greatness of God's love for man - Ro 5:6-9; 1Jn 4:9-10
   c. The inspiration of Jesus' sacrifice - 1Pe 2:21-25

In our next lesson, we shall consider Jesus’ death and burial that
followed this terrible crucifixion.  But as you reflect on what Jesus’
endured, have you considered what you should do...? - cf. Ac 2:36-41
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

"THE GOSPEL OF MARK" Jesus Condemned And Mocked (15:2-20) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                  Jesus Condemned And Mocked (15:2-20)


1. As mentioned previously, Jesus faced two trials prior to His
   a. The ecclesiastical trial, in three stages
      1) The preliminary hearing before Annas - cf. Jn 18:12-14,19-24
      2) The midnight trial before Caiaphas and the council - Mk14:53-65
      3) The morning consultation of the council - Mk 15:1
   b. The civil trial, also in three stages
      1) Before Pilate, the Roman governor - Mk 15:2-5
      2) Before Herod, the tetrarch over Galilee - cf. Lk 23:6-12
      3) Before Pilate again - Mk 15:6-15

2. We turn our attention to events related to the civil trial as found
   in Mark’s gospel...
   a. Jesus before Pilate - Mk 15:2-15
   b. Jesus mocked by Roman soldiers - Mk 15:16-20

[Beginning with Mk 15:2, let’s direct our attention to the details of
the trial, starting with...]


      1. Pontius Pilate, the 5th Roman governor of Judea (26-36 A.D.)
         - Mk 15:2
      2. Often harsh, Jewish sources charge him with greed and cruelty
         - cf. Lk 13:1

      1. Who had plotted to kill Jesus, and sent to arrest Him - Mk 14:1,43
      2. Who had tried Jesus at the home of Caiaphas - Mk 14:53
      3. Who had delivered Jesus to Pilate - Mk 15:1-3

      1. The prisoner released in Jesus’ stead - Mk 15:6-15
      2. A rebel guilty of murder, and a robber - Mk 15:7; cf. Jn 18:40

      1. A crowd who had gathered to ask for the release of a prisoner
         - Mk 15:8
      2. Prompted by the chief priests to clamor for Barabbas instead of
         Jesus - Mk 15:11
      3. Eventually crying out, "Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!" - Mk 15:13-14

      1. Who mocked Jesus (see below) - Mk 15:16-20
      2. Who ultimately crucified Him - Mk 15:20

[With such a review of those present during the civil trial before
Pilate, let’s now consider...]


      1. He perverts the nation - Lk 23:2
      2. He forbids to pay taxes to Caesar - Lk 23:2; yet cf. Lk 20:22-25
      3. He claims to be Christ, a King - Lk 23:2
      4. He stirs up the people, teaching throughout Judea and Galilee
         - Lk 23:5

      1. Who asked Jesus, "Are You the King of the Jews?" - Mk 15:2
         a. To which Jesus admitted - Mk 15:2
         b. Though His kingdom was spiritual - cf. Jn 18:36-38
      2. Who marveled at Jesus’ silence regarding the other charges - Mk 15:3-5
      3. Who ascertained that it was envy that motivated the chief
         priests - Mk 15:10
      4. Who did not think Jesus was guilty of death - Mk 15:14; cf. Lk 23:13-15
      5. Whose wife wanted him to release Jesus - cf. Mt 27:19
      6. Who finally sought to gratify the crowd, to avoid a tumult - Mk 15:15; Mt 27:24

[Though Pilate considered Jesus innocent, pressured by the crowd he
initiated actions that would lead to the crucifixion.  Such actions
included terrible abuse, which we will now survey...]


      1. By the instructions of Pilate - Mk 15:15; Jn 19:1
      2. This involved being "tied to a post and beaten with a leather
         whip that was interwoven with pieces of bone and metal, which
         tore through skin and tissue, often exposing bones and
         intestines. In many cases, the flogging itself was fatal."
         - ESVSB

      1. By soldiers who led Jesus to the hall called Praetorium - Mk 15:16
      2. Who clothed Him with purple and a twisted crown of thorns on
         His head - Mk 15:17
      3. Who saluted Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" - Mk 15:18
      4. Who struck Him on the head with a reed - Mk 15:19
      5. Who spat on Him - Mk 15:19
      6. Who mockingly worshiped Him - Mk 15:19
      7. Who stripped Him and put back on Him His clothes - Mk 15:20


1. Again, the barbarous injustice at Jesus’ trials is evident...
   a. The false charges and physical abuse
   b. A cowardly governor acquiescing to a manipulated crowd

2. But lest we forget, this was in keeping with God’s Divine
   a. Which Jesus acknowledged in His predictions and prayers - Mk 8:31-33; 14:36
   b. Which Peter proclaimed in his first sermon on Pentecost - Ac 2:22-24

All in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa 53:4-12).  Shall we not
respond accordingly...? - Ac 8:30-38
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

"THE GOSPEL OF MARK" Binding The Hands Of Jesus (15:1) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                   Binding The Hands Of Jesus (15:1)


1. In Mk 15:1, we are told the enemies of Jesus bound Him and sent Him
   to Pilate...

   "Immediately, in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation
   with the elders and scribes and the whole council; and they bound
   Jesus, led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate."

2. As we read this, it is easy for our hearts to be filled with sadness,
   and even with a touch of righteous indignation for that crowd that
   bound Jesus in such a way

3. And yet, there are few today who are not guilty of binding the hands
   of Jesus in a figurative way!

[To see what I mean, consider some of the various ways we can be guilty
of "Binding The Hands of Jesus" today...]


      1. Today, through His gospel, He pleads with all to take advantage
         of His vicarious suffering
      2. He does not want us to suffer for the guilt of our own sins
      3. In truth, then, His "tender invitation" of Mt 11:28-30 is still
         being offered today

      1. The hands of Jesus are bound!
      2. There is no way such a person can then receive the benefits of
         Jesus death!
      3. For him or her, the death of Jesus was in vain!

      1. It will be...if you do not obey the gospel of Christ 
          - cf. Mk 16:15-16; Ac 2:38
      2. And if so, you will one day have to face His righteous
         indignation! - 2Th 1:7-9

[But even those who obey the gospel can be guilty of "Binding The Hands
Of Jesus".  How...?]


      1. This transformation involves a renewal of the mind - Ro 12:1-2;
         Ep 4:20-24
      2. Through study and meditation upon the Word of God - 1Pe 1:23-2:2; Php 4:8

      1. We do not "receive with meekness the implanted word..." - Jm 1:21
      2. Thus we "bind the hands of Jesus" that we do not change!

      1. We are, if we neglect to study the Bible on our own!
      2. We are, if we fail to take advantage of opportunities to study
         with others!

[Neglect the transforming power of the Word of God, and we are just as
guilty of "Binding The Hands Of Jesus" as were those who delivered Him
to Pilate! We can also bind the hands of Jesus...]


      1. He became man for this very purpose - He 2:17-18
      2. He’s made it possible for us to boldly approach the throne of
         grace in prayer - He 4:14-16
      3. As our high priest...
         a. He is able to save those who come to God through Him - He 7:25
         b. He "ever lives" to make intercession for us - ibid.

      1. Jesus cannot be our high priest, our intercessor!
      2. Figuratively, we’ve taken the "praying hands" of Jesus and
         "bound" them behind His back!

      1. If so, what a travesty this is!
      2. For here is Jesus...
         a. Who "lives" to intercede for us
         b. But Who can’t, because we prevent Him from doing so by our
            failure to pray!

[Another way to be guilty of "Binding The Hands Of Jesus"...]


      1. As His body, we are individually members of one another - 1Co 12:27
      2. As members of one another, we are to care for one another - Ep 4:15-16
      3. It is through such "mutual edification", that Christ provides
         much of His help for the members of His body!

      1. Just as our physical head can do little if our bodily members
         fail to follow its leading, so it is with Jesus and His church!
      2. Jesus could do so much more for His members, if only more of
         the members did their part!

      1. That by failing to do our part, we "handicap" the body of
      2. That because of neglect or apathy...
         a. Either the whole body of Christ suffers
         b. Or others are forced to do "double duty" in order to make up
            the difference?

[Yes, there are many ways we can be just as guilty of "Binding The Hands
Of Jesus" today as were the religious leaders who delivered Jesus to
Pilate!  But consider just one more...]


      1. Consider Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15-16; 1Pe 2:9
      2. In every case of conversion recorded in Acts, Jesus used a
         disciple to tell the good news
      3. Jesus works the same way today!

      1. We have "bound the hands" of Jesus once again!
      2. We hinder Jesus from telling others of His wonderful grace!

      1. Every day, countless souls die with no hope of eternal life
      2. This need not be, if more made sharing of the gospel the
         primary concern in their lives!
      3. Sadly, in too many cases the primary concern of Christians is
         the pursuit of pleasure and acquisition of worldly treasures!


1. Yes, one does not have to literally "bind the hands of Jesus" to be
   guilty of the same sort of offense that we read about in Mk 15:1; as we
   have seen, there are many other ways as well!

2. Why not today, resolve to "loose the hands of Jesus" so that in us
   and through us He may accomplish His full desire?  Which is...
   a. To save us!
   b. To transform us!
   c. To use us!

               Christ Has No Hands But Our Hands
                  ~ By Annie Johnson Flint ~

     Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today
     He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way
     He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died
     He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.

     We are the only Bible the careless world will read,
     We are the sinner’s gospel; we are the scoffer’s creed;
     We are the Lord’s last message, given in word and deed;
     What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?

     What if our hands are busy with other work than His?
     What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?
     What if our tongue is speaking of things His lips would spurn?
     How can we hope to help Him or welcome His return?
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

A Christian Approach to Islam [Part II] by Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.


A Christian Approach to Islam [Part II]

by  Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Part I of this two-part series appeared in the January issue. Part II follows below and continues, without introductory comments, where the first article ended.]
Unlike the popular notion, Islam is not the exclusive religion of Arab countries in the Middle East, but has found prolific expression around the globe. It is the fastest-growing religion in the world, claiming up to one billion adherents worldwide. To put that in perspective, this figure indicates that one out of every five people is a Muslim. In the United States, there are now up to five million Muslims, and over 1,100 mosques or Islamic centers (see Rood, 1994; Ahmad, 1995). Muslims, therefore, no longer are the vague features of geographically detached people, but could be among those whom we encounter in our daily routines. In light of these considerations, properly understanding, and responding to, Islam become increasingly apparent and personal.
The Persian Gulf War, and other such conflicts involving the U.S. and Islamic nations, have created within Westerners largely negative images of Muslims. Often they are associated with the stubbled faces and cold stares of fanatical terrorists who, to advance their political agenda, bomb public facilities, snuffing out hundreds of innocent lives. While some militant Islamic sects have conducted terrorist activity in the U.S. and other Western nations, they are not necessarily representative of all Muslims (see Al-Ashmawy, 1996; Sial, 1995). Simply exposing the radical views held by violent sects would not be a responsible critique of Islam. As Islamic writer Mubashar Ahmad correctly has objected, such an approach “would be as if someone tries to understand Christianity by reading the news of what is happening politically and religiously in Northern Ireland or of apartheid in South Africa” (1995).


In light of Ahmad’s legitimate caveat, at least two observations need to guide an analysis of, and response to, Islam. First, as indicated in part one of this series, Islam is not a monolithic system, but contains several identifiable sects and movements (Brantley, 1996; see Rood, 1994). It is “a religious movement that has experienced constant change over the centuries and has acquired a high degree of inner diversity, a faith shared by concrete men and women with a broad spectrum of attitudes and feelings” (Kung, 1986, p. 22). Not all Muslims engage in, or support, the terrorist activity of fundamentalist Islamic sects. In fact, nonextremist Muslims decry the intolerant Islam preached by militant fanatics whose messages, they contend, are “a cover for advancing their political agenda and their lust for power, and ideology more akin to fascism and Marxism than to the Islamic faith” (Al-Ashmawy, 1996, p. 157). Thus, a Christian response to Islam must guard against stereotyping Muslims as blood-thirsty rogues with no regard for human life.
Second, we need to be sensitive to, and try to appreciate, the anti-west/anti-U.S. sentiment among many Middle Eastern Muslims. Historically, Muslims have equated, and continue to equate, the West with Christianity. From this perspective, “Christian” and “Muslim” nations have had a long history of conflict, leaving both with animosity toward one another. While Islamic countries have committed their share of atrocities against Christian nations, the former do have some legitimate grievances against the latter. The Crusades (c. 1050-1291), for example, are etched indelibly into Muslim minds. In the Colonial period (c. 1450-1970), Western nations subjugated about ninety percent of the Muslim world, which instilled in many Muslims a deep desire to avenge such shame and humiliation. Perhaps the greatest blow to the Islamic ego was when, after thirteen hundred years of occupation, they lost possession of Jerusalem to the Jews in 1967. Muslims blame this turn of events on the “Christian” West for creating the state of Israel in 1948 (see McCurry, 1994). Though we might reasonably object that they have skewed history to a certain extent (see van Ess, 1986, pp. 37-38), Muslims nonetheless view the West, and particularly the U.S., through lenses colored by this history of Muslim casualties. If we are to have any success in reaching Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must approach them with sensitivities toward their, and our, past.


While we recognize the vast diversity of thought and attitudes within Islam, our response to this world religion must be limited to its core beliefs. Before offering such a critique, it will be both helpful and crucial to clarify the points of tension between Christianity and Islam. While on a superficial level it appears that Christianity and Islam share common theological ground in some particulars (e.g., monotheism), a closer scrutiny of the two religions exposes several fundamental differences that can be reconciled only by a costly compromise by either the Christian, the Muslim, or both.

Monotheism of Islam

At first glance, it appears that the rigid monotheism of Islam largely is compatible with Christian thought. The idea expressed in the Qur’an that God is “the one, the most unique,” and the “immanently indispensable” to Whom “no one is comparable” (sura 112:1-2,4), generally agrees with biblical concepts of God (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4; Psalm 86:8; Isaiah 40:18; 44:6). Yet, the monotheism of Islam is so rigid and inflexible that it repudiates two crucial, and inextricably linked, doctrines of historic Christianity.
1. The Trinity. Though questioned by some groups within the pale of Christianity, the concept of the trinity has strong biblical support (see Bromling, 1991). This doctrine does not suggest, as is alleged by non-Trinitarians, a tri-theistic construct of God. It simply affirms that there are three distinct persons (i.e., the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), yet all are one in essence. In other words, while the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sustain distinct relationships to one another, they share the same divine nature (see Geisler and Saleeb, 1993, p. 266). In this regard, Christianity and Islam are firmly opposed to one another. Unlike the monotheism of Christianity that allows for a plurality within the divine essence, Islam condemns such a pluralistic concept of God (see Kaleem, 1994). The Qur’an cautions the “people of the book” (i.e., Christians) against calling God “Trinity” for “God is only one God” (sura 4:171).
2. The Deity of Jesus. Consistent with Islam’s repudiation of the Trinitarian idea of God, the Qur’an, though it exalts Jesus in many particulars, explicitly denies the deity of Jesus. While the Qur’an acknowledges that Jesus was a miraculous “sign” and divine “blessing” (19:21), Islamic Christology is totally devoid of divine content (see Kuitse, 1992, 20:357). Since God’s transcendent glory prohibits His begetting a son, the Qur’an presents Jesus only as the “son of Mary,” not the Son of God (4:171). Rather than possessing the divine nature as in biblical Christology (Philippians 2:8-12; Colossians 1:18), the Qur’anic Jesus “was only a creature” (43:59) brought into existence by God’s creative word (3:42-52). Islam’s view of Jesus demonstrates the vast difference between it and Christianity. And, far from being a peripheral issue, the deity of Jesus is an essential tenet of Christianity. Thus, while Christianity and Islam share a common monotheistic belief, there is no resolving their Christological differences as they stand.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ

Another cardinal doctrine of Christianity—the atonement—is discarded by the Qur’an. That Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again from the grave according to the Scriptures is the thrust of the gospel message (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Contrary to the conclusion of some modern theologians, Paul argued that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection were actual events of history. Following Paul’s line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, if Christ did not actually rise from the dead there is no gospel, and the entire Christian system is annulled (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). A denial of these core events is tantamount to rejecting the veracity of Christianity.
Yet, Islam does deny these central Christian events, charging that Jesus actually did not die on the cross (see Ijaz, n.d.). In a context in which the Jews are excoriated for repeatedly breaking God’s covenant, the Qur’an reads:
And for saying [in boast]: “We killed the Christ, Jesus, son of Mary, who was an apostle of God;” but they neither killed nor crucified him, though it so appeared to them. Those who disagree in the matter are only lost in doubt. They have no knowledge about it other than conjecture, for surely they did not kill him, but God raised him up (in position) and closer to Himself; and God is all-mighty and all wise (sura 4:157-158).
This one reading has generated considerable debate among Islamic commentators. The phrase, “so it appeared to them,” particularly has been problematic. Generally, orthodox Muslims have interpreted this to mean that in some mysterious manner, God made another person so resemble Jesus that he was crucified by mistake. By this means God intervened and frustrated the Jews’ evil purpose, and subsequently transported Jesus into heaven (see Geisler and Saleeb, 1992, pp. 64-65). According to Norman Anderson, Muhammad’s aversion to Jesus’ death as reflected in the Qur’an could have been motivated by several factors. Perhaps it was due, Anderson suggests, to the influence of Gnostic views, to his disdain for the “superstitious veneration” of the symbol of the cross in seventh-century Asia, or to his disbelief that God would allow one of His prophets to die in such a disgraceful manner (1975, p. 101). Of these possibilities, the latter is the most likely candidate.
Regardless of the rationale behind Islam’s denial of Jesus’ crucifixion, one fact remains: Islam rejects the idea of Jesus’ crucifixion and, by implication, His vicarious suffering for sinful humanity. As already indicated, such a denial strikes at the very heart of the Christian system. Once again, any points of contact between Islam and Christianity are eclipsed by this fundamental difference.

Means of Salvation

As a corollary to its denial of Jesus’ death, Islam differs significantly with Christianity regarding the means of humankind’s salvation. In the Christian system, all responsible human beings without Christ are powerless slaves to a ruthless taskmaster—sin (Romans 5:6-11; 6:15-18; Ephesians 2:14-18). Since there is no means of liberating ourselves from the bondage of sin, human beings desperately are in need of a savior. In response to this critical condition, God, motivated by His love, entered into human history as a man, and offered His sinless life for humanity. The New Testament writers employed several images (financial, military, sacrificial, and legal) to convey in a concrete way the soteriological purpose of Christ’s death. Through the cross, sinners are purchased (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23), victorious (Colossians 1:12; 2:15; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28), atoned for (Romans 3:25; 1 Corinthians 5:7), and acquitted and reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:16-19; Colossians 1:19-20; see Guthrie, 1994, pp. 251-256). While scholars continue to debate the theological details of these images, it is clear from the New Testament that God took the initiative in the salvation of humanity. It further emphasizes that salvation is not by human works of merit, but by God’s grace through an expressive faith in the redemptive act of Christ on the cross (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Islam, however, has no place for a suffering savior in its redemptive system. It does not view human beings as enslaved by sin without the ability of self-emancipation. Though it emphasizes the role of God’s mercy and forgiveness in salvation, Islam teaches that God’s pleasure, and thus one’s place in Heaven, are earned (cf. suras 2:207; 39:69). On the Day of Judgment, according to Islam, those who have fulfilled their religious duties, and compensated for their altruistic deficiencies by performing additional good deeds, will attain salvation. Those whose good deeds are insufficient, however, “shall forfeit their souls and abide in Hell forever” (sura 23:102-103). In the final analysis, according to Islam, humankind’s spiritual need is not for a divine savior, but simply for divine guidance.


The points of tension between Islam and Christianity demonstrate the theological incompatibility of these two world views. To embrace Islam is to deny the essentials of the Christian faith; likewise, to espouse Christianity is to compromise seriously the core beliefs of Islam. Having laid out the basic practices and duties of Islam, and having highlighted the distinctions between Islam and Christianity, a Christian evaluation of Islam now is in order. Due to space restrictions, we will devote our attention to two crucial points of Islam: the nature of God, and the Qur’an.

The Nature of God

As already indicated, the stringent monotheism of Islam categorizes the Trinitarian concept of deity espoused by Christians as tri-theism. This is due to a misunderstanding of the Father/Son relationship between God and Jesus as mentioned in the Bible (see John 10:29-33). For Jesus to sustain such a filial kinship to God, “often in the Muslim mind implies some kind of sexual generation” (Geisler and Saleeb, 1993, pp. 134-135). Of course, the term “Father” or “Son” does not necessitate physical procreation any more than Saddam Hussein’s description of the Gulf War as the “Mother of all Battles” demands that the conflict had a physical womb. The description of Jesus as the “only begotten Son” of God (John 3:16) refers, not to a physical act of procreation, but to His unique relationship to God the Father.
The idea expressed in the Qur’an that God’s glory prohibits Him from begetting a son (in the carnal sense; sura 4:171) provides further insight into the theology of Islam. God is so transcendent and unified to Himself that He is dissociated totally from creation and, thus, acts impersonally (McDowell, 1983, p. 393). To many Muslims, this implies that God is so detached from our human existence that He has no (knowable) essence; He is absolute Will. A God with no essence means a God with no essential characteristics. From this perspective, though the Qur’an extols God as “the Compassionate, the Merciful,” such characteristics are not rooted in His essence but are the results of His capricious will. As the Qur’an indicates, God is merciful simply because “He has decreed mercy for Himself ” (sura 6:12). In short, in Islamic theology what God does determines who God is. Since God’s actions are contingent on His arbitrary will, then who God is ultimately is an act of His volition.
Such a concept of God, however, involves a serious moral difficulty. It implies the possibility that, had God willed it, He might as easily have been “The Merciless” rather than “The Merciful.” For, as Geisler and Saleeb have observed, “if God is Will, without any real essence, then he does not do things because they are right; rather, they are right because he does them” (1993, pp. 136-137). In the final analysis, the God of Islam has no nature by which He is inherently prohibited from, or motivated toward, certain actions. The God of Christianity, however, has such a nature that self-limits His actions (e.g., He cannot lie, Titus 1:2). In addition, rather than being the products of His volition, the benevolent attributes of the Christian God (e.g., goodness, mercy, love, grace) are part of His essence.
These divergent concepts of God find practical expression in profoundly different ways. Consistent with Islamic theology, the concern of orthodox Muslims is not to know God in an intimate fashion, but simply to obey Him. The God of Islam does not reveal Himself; rather, He reveals only His will, to which Muslims are to submit in an external fashion. On the contrary, the God of Christianity has revealed not only His propositional truth in the Bible, but also His essence in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, Christians seek not only to do God’s will, but to be in a covenant relationship with Him. Due to the Islamic concept of God, together with its works-oriented means of salvation, Muslims cannot have the sense of security that Christians enjoy through God’s grace as taught in the Bible.

The Qur’an

To Muslims, the Qur’an is not merely the counterpart of the Christian Bible, but is the Islamic equivalent of Christ. According to Muslim scholar, Yusuf K. Ibish, “If you want to compare it with anything in Christianity, you must compare it with Christ Himself ” (as quoted in Geisler and Saleeb, 1993, p. 179). Consistent with Ibish’s observation, Muslims assign to the Qur’an the same attributes that Christians apply to Christ. For example, just as Jesus is the human manifestation of the eternal God in biblical Christology (John 1:1-3,14; Hebrews 1:1-3), the Qur’an is the linguistic representation of God’s eternal Word. In short, while in Christianity the divine Word became a human being, in Islam the eternal Word became a book. Muslims further argue that the Qur’an not only is the inspired, inerrant, eternal, and final revelation of God that supersedes all others, but is also the ultimate divine miracle. In fact, as stated in part one of this series, it was the only miracle Muhammad offered when asked to display his prophetic credentials. Muslims employ several arguments to support the claim of the Qur’an’s miraculous status. Consider two of the most popular arguments, and a brief response.
1. Unique literary style. To many Muslims the strongest evidence supporting the miraculous nature of the Qur’an is its impressive literary style. The Arabic in which the Qur’an was written has rhyming, rhythmic qualities that delight the Arab’s ears (Shorrosh, 1988, p. 25). Muslims further hold that the Qur’an’s rhetoric, clarity of expression, and concepts are unparalleled in the world of literature. To Muslim apologists, these literary qualities indicate the divine origin of the Qur’an.
To question the literary quality of the Qur’an, as many attempt to do, is an inadequate response to this argument because the Muslim simply would point out that only those who understand the nuances of the Arabic language can appreciate this aspect of the Qur’an. Further, determining the quality of a production introduces the dimension of subjectivity. Hence, the question is: Does eloquence indicate divine inspiration? At best, the eloquence of the Qur’an only suggests that Muhammad was a gifted orator. If eloquence is strong evidence for divine inspiration, the works of Homer and Shakespeare are candidates for this exalted status as well. In short, the argument from eloquence is not a sufficient proof of inspiration.
2. Muhammad’s illiteracy. A controversial verse in the Qur’an forms the basis for the belief in Muhammad’s illiteracy. In that passage, Allah promises to bestow mercy on those who, among other duties, “follow the Apostle—the Unlettered Prophet...” (sura 7:157). The phrase “the Unlettered Prophet,” often is interpreted to indicate Muhammad’s illiteracy. If so, Muslims contend, this is further confirmation of the Qur’an’s divine origin, since it would have been highly improbable, if not impossible, for a formally-uneducated prophet to produce such a quality work.
There are at least two points to make in response to this claim. First, it is questionable whether Muhammad actually was illiterate. Some Arabic scholars contend that the words al umni “the unlettered,” actually mean “the heathen,” or “the gentile,” which is reflected in more recent translations (see Ali, 1993, p. 148). Second, if Muhammad actually were illiterate, that fact alone would not necessitate that the Qur’an was dictated to him by God. One’s level of formal training does not necessarily enhance one’s intelligence or creative abilities. Even if he could neither read nor write, Muhammad could have dictated his messages to a scribe who subsequently wrote them down. In the final analysis, it is plausible that someone with no formal training could have produced the Qur’an. Hence, the question of Muhammad’s illiteracy is a peripheral issue when it comes to establishing the divine origin of the Qur’an.
Islamic apologists offer other arguments to support the Qur’an’s claim of divine authorship. Among them are the alleged perfect preservation of the Qur’anic text, fulfilled prophecies, its unity, and scientific accuracy. These evidences, however, similarly prove to be unconvincing (see Geisler and Saleeb, 1993, pp. 204; Lawson, 1991).


Of course, Muslims, as do other non-believers, challenge the evidences for biblical inspiration. Since, generally speaking, Islamic countries protect the Qur’an from criticism, it has not been subjected to the same intensity of critical analysis as has the Bible. Despite the centuries-long attacks against biblical credibility, the Bible has fared quite well. And, though it is not within the purview of this brief article to enumerate each of them, there are impressive evidences for the integrity of the Christian system (see Geisler, 1976; Wharton, 1977)
While we can, and should, discuss the differences between Islam and Christianity, and debate with Muslims regarding the inspiration of the Qur’an, encountering Muslims at this level most likely will produce little evangelistic progress. First we must extend the love of Christ to Muslims in concrete ways. Once they have seen tangible evidence of the risen Lord within our lives, we will be in a better position to discuss these more technical, yet vital, issues.


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Lawson, Todd B. (1991), “Note for the Study of a Shi’i Qur’an,” Journal of Semitic Studies, 36:279-295.
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van Ess, Josef (1986), “Sunnis and Shi’ites: The State, Law, and Religion: Islamic Perspectives,” Christianity and World Religions, ed. Hans Kung (Garden City, NY: Doubleday).
Wharton, Edward C. (1977), Christianity: A Clear Case of History (West Monroe, LA: Howard).

A Christian Approach To Islam [Part I] by Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.


A Christian Approach To Islam [Part I]

by  Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.

In 1990, U.S. President George Bush was faced with an international crisis that he felt warranted an immediate and decisive military response. Under the direction of Saddam Hussein, Iraq invaded the small, bordering nation of Kuwait. Iraq’s massive military, with its superior weaponry, experienced little difficulty occupying and controlling Kuwait. The threat of destabilization in this oil-rich region prompted President Bush to dispatch thousands of troops into Saudi Arabia, which began Operation Desert Shield. In early 1991, U.S. and allied troops successfully defeated Iraq’s feared military in the now-famous Operation Desert Storm, and drove back the remnants of Hussein’s tattered troops to Baghdad, the capital of Iraq.
During this conflict, which potentially threatened global peace, millions in the U.S. were glued to their television sets by anxiety over the fates of their fellow citizens. Technology and dauntless reporters kept us abreast of practically every frightening clash between Iraqi and allied forces. In the course of this continuous news coverage, Westerners not only were confronted with Saddam Hussein’s dreaded military, but also were exposed to a culture that is dominated by an unfamiliar religion—Islam. With the increasing awareness of our global society, and with the worldwide proliferation of this religion, it is important for Christians to understand and respond to Islam.


Such a task must begin with Islam’s origin and nature. The immensity of the subject and space restrictions preclude an exhaustive treatment of these points. Hence, only a broad survey of the origin and contours of Islamic thought and practices will be presented.

Muhammad, Founder of Islam

The origin of Islam can be traced back to Muhammad (var. sp.: Muhammed, Mohammed), who was born c. A.D. 570 at Mecca, the holy city in western Saudi Arabia. Muhammad’s practically unknown father died before his birth, and his mother died when he was only six. The early orphaned Muhammad was reared by his grandfather and uncle who, though disputed by some Western scholars, appear to have been prominent members of the Qurayah tribe. This Arabian clan was the guardian of the Kaabah (var. sp.: Ka’bah), the great shrine at Mecca in whose walls the sacred black stone was embedded. According to Arabian tradition, the black stone fell from heaven in the time of Adam, a possible indication that it was a meteorite that landed in the sands of Arabia (Humble, 1980, 4:52). Muslims believe that, on his pilgrimage to Mecca with Ishmael, Abraham built the Kaabah and positioned the meteorite within its walls. This shrine, which figures prominently in Muhammad’s life and the establishment and development of Islam, was dedicated to the Arabs’ pantheon of deities.
While Muhammad’s early life is somewhat obscure, apparently he was employed by a rich widow, Khadija, who entrusted him with her caravans. Khadija was so impressed with his dependable and conscientious service that she married Muhammad, provided him with wealth and success, and encouraged his religious inclinations. With his wife’s support, Muhammad increasingly withdrew from business affairs, and spent much of his time in the seclusion of the desert meditating and reflecting on life (Schmalfuss, 1982, p. 311). During this process, Muhammad developed a passionate monotheistic belief, and became extremely frustrated with the polytheism and superstitions of his fellow Arabs. Though it is difficult to determine the extent to which variant shades of Christianity and Judaism influenced the development of Muhammad’s strict monotheism, it is clear that ”at some period of his life he absorbed much teaching from Talmudic sources and had contact with some form of Christianity” (Anderson, 1975, p. 93).

Muhammad’s Revelations and the Qur’an

According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad, at the age of forty, began to receive revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. His first alleged encounter with the heavenly messenger was quite violent. While Muhammad was in a deep trance, Gabriel appeared to him and, either by choking or some other life-threatening gesture, forced Muhammad into submission. “Read,” Gabriel demanded, “in the name of thy Lord, who created man from clots of blood” (sura 96:1; cf., Schmalfuss, 1982, p. 311). Since the encounter was both violent and accompanied by convulsions that sent him into an unconscious trance, Muhammad at first was unsure of the source of his vision. He feared that he possessed one of the jinn (demons) commonly believed to inhabit Arab poets and soothsayers (Anderson, 1975, p. 94). Khadija and others, however, assured Muhammad of the divine source of his visions. Once convinced of his prophetic call, Muhammad’s revelations occurred with increasing frequency.
Since, as many Muslims argue, Muhammad was illiterate, he did not record these revelations personally. During his lifetime, however, his followers transcribed and collected much of Muhammad’s oral teachings into the Qur’an (var. sp.: Koran), though many passages were preserved only in the memory of his followers and were committed to writing after his death (Shorrosh, 1988, p. 24). The word Qur’an derives from the Arabic word qara’a (“to recite”), a designation consistent with the recurring mandate for Muhammad to “proclaim” (i.e., “recite” or “read”) the words of Allah. Consisting of 114 chapters (called suras), the Qur’an is a non-chronological collection of verses, reflecting various periods in Muhammad’s life. Each sura of the Qur’an is subdivided into verses (ayat). Interestingly, the Arabic word ayat carries with it the meaning of “a miracle.” For those seeking certification of his claims, Muhammad would appeal to the Qur’an itself as miraculous confirmation of his divine appointment to the prophetic office (Wilson, 1982, p. 315). All Muslims, regardless of their sectarian affiliation, continue to regard the Qur’an as their sacred and authoritative text.

Muhammad’s Rejection and Flight from Mecca

Once convinced that his first revelatory experiences in the desert were from God, Muhammad began to denounce openly the polytheism of his people and to proclaim a rigid monotheism. By emphasizing the resurrection of the dead, and the subsequent judgment of God, he challenged the populace to submit to the One (Allah) true God, and to show compassion to the poor. Consistent with this message of submission, the word “Islam” is the infinitive of the Arabic verb “to submit,” and “Muslim” (“one who submits”) is the present participle of the same verb.
Muhammad’s monotheistic message threatened the financial interests of many in Mecca who profited from the regular pilgrimages of polytheists to the Kaabah. As might be expected, Muhammad met with considerable opposition, and succeeded in making only a few converts. Due to the increasingly aggressive hostility directed against him by the traders at Mecca, Muhammad and his small band of followers fled from Mecca to Medina on July 16, 622. This “flight” from Mecca, which Muslims call the “Hijra,” marks the official beginning of the Islamic religion. Reflecting this point of origin, the Islamic calendar is calibrated to the Hijra. According to Islamic chronology, for example, A.D. 630 would be designated 8 A.H. (“in the year of the Hijra”).
Unlike his experience in Mecca, where he was rejected as an eccentric purveyor of an unpopular—and unprofitable—religion, Muhammad enjoyed greater success in Medina. There, he “soon became statesman, legislator and judge—the executive as well as the mouthpiece of the new theocracy” (Anderson, 1975, p. 95). Several suras in the Qur’an, which emphasize obedience to the Prophet and insist on his favorable treatment, reflect Muhammad’s influential position at Medina (cf., 3:29,126; 4:17-18; 24:63-64; 49:2-4; see Geisler and Saleeb, 1993, p. 57).
Though significantly greater than at Mecca, Muhammad’s success at Medina was not as extensive as he desired. He particularly was disappointed at his lack of reception among the Jewish population. Rather than embracing him for his monotheism, the Jews eventually rejected Muhammad’s prophetic claims, and criticized his inaccurate accounts of Old Testament events. It became obvious that there were serious discrepancies between Qur’anic and biblical details of the same incident. To maintain the divine origin of the Qur’an, Muhammad was compelled to charge the Jews with either corrupting, or misquoting, their own scriptures. This allegation further heightened the tension between Muhammad’s followers and the Jews, and eventually precipitated the banishment or massacre of Jewish tribes in that area (Anderson, 1975, p. 95).

The Return to Mecca

Once his relationship with the Jews was severed, Muhammad no longer looked to Jerusalem, but refocused on Mecca as the center of the Islamic religion. Muhammad’s renewed interest in Mecca necessitated his purging the town of its polytheism, thus bringing it into harmony with the monotheism of Islam. Enlisting the help of nomadic Arab tribes, Muhammad led a series of armed raids on Mecca, and in A.D. 630 he captured the city with no resistance. Mecca quickly was purged of all its polytheistic symbols, and the Kaabah became the focal point of the religion of the one true God. Before his death in A.D. 632 (11 A.H.), Muhammad had made great strides in unifying the Arab tribes throughout the Arabian peninsula under the banner of Islam (see Anderson, 1975, p. 96; Noss, as quoted in McDowell, 1983, p. 381).


Since Muhammad neither left a male heir nor named a successor, his death created an immediate leadership crisis in Islam. The nature of Islam, however, which encompassed both civil and religious concerns, demanded a successor (Caliph, or Khalifa) to guide its adherents in applying the principles of the Qur’an to contemporary circumstances. Naming such an individual proved to be a difficult and divisive task. Along with other issues of interpretation, the role of, and criteria for appointing, the Caliph eventually fragmented Islam into two major divisions that remain today: Sunni and Shi’a (see Kung, 1986).

The Sunni

The Sunni branch, claiming approximately 90% of all Muslims, argued that the Caliph should belong to Muhammad’s tribe, the Qurayah, and that the community should choose him by the process of consensus (ijma). Since Muhammad was the “Seal of the Prophets,” the Sunnis considered the responsibilities of the Caliph merely to guard—not continue—the prophetic legacy, and to provide “for the administration of community affairs in obedience to the Qur’an and prophetic precedent” (Kerr, 1982, p. 330). Within thirty years of Muhammad’s death, four Caliphs were appointed in succession: Abu Bakr (632-634), ‘Umar (634-644), ‘Uthman (644-656), and ‘Ali (656-661). Sunnis regard these first Islamic leaders as “the four rightly guided Caliphs,” since they lived so close to Muhammad. Because of their chronological proximity to Muhammad, Sunnis believe that the sunna (behavior or practice) of these four Caliphs, together with the Prophet’s, is authoritative for all Muslims. The Sunnis derive their name from this emphasis on the sunna. While there are subdivisions of this group, distinguished by specific points of interpretation, they all call themselves Sunni.

The Shi’a

The other major branch of Islam, which claims about 10% of the Muslim population and exists primarily in Iraq and Iran, is the more militant Shi’a. The Shi’ites, as those comprising the Shi’a sect are called, splintered from the Sunnis primarily over the question of the Caliphate. Regarding this matter, there are specifically two points of disagreement between Shi’ites and Sunnis. First, the Shi’ites place more rigid genealogical restrictions on the Caliph than do the Sunnis. On the one hand, Sunnis believe that the Caliph should be a descendent of Muhammad’s tribe. On the other hand, Shi’ites argue that the Caliph should descend specifically from ‘Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law. In fact, the word Shi’ite means “partisan” and indicates that Shi’ites are “partisans of ‘Ali” (Rood, 1994). Second, the Shi’ites differ with the Sunnis regarding the authority of the Caliph. Unlike the Sunnis, Shi’ite Muslims believe that the Islamic leader, whom they call the imam, is more than merely a guardian of Muhammad’s prophetic legacy. Rather, Muhammad bequeathed ‘Ali with his wilaya (i.e., his “spiritual abilities”), enabling him to interpret the Qur’an and to lead the Islamic community infallibly. Though there are various interpretations, Shi’ites generally believe that the wilaya has been passed down through the subsequent generations of ‘Ali’s descendants. They further believe that this “cycle of the wilaya” will continue until the last day when humankind will be resurrected and judged (see Kerr, 1982, p. 331).
The majority faction within the Shi’a branch, known as the Imamis (most of whom live in Iran), believes that the completion of the wilaya cycle will end with the messianic return of the twelfth imam. According to this sect, the twelfth imam has been in “occultation” (the state of hiding) since the third century of Islam. They believe, however, that the ayatollahs (senior experts in Islamic law) have access to the hidden imam, and thus, have the right to interpret Islamic law and make religious rulings (Kerr, 1982, p. 331). The late Ayatollah Khomeini, perhaps the most widely remembered Shi’ite leader among contemporary Westerners, was considered to be the spokesman for the hidden imam.


Though more a movement within, rather than a sect of, Islam, a third identifiable group that should be mentioned is the Sufis. Reacting to the externally oriented, and legalistic disposition of the Islamic religious system, Sufis seek a mystical experience of God. The word Sufism usually is translated “mysticism,” which reflects this emphasis on a personal religious experience. Since Sufis, who belong to either the Sunni or Shi’a sect, desire more than an intellectual knowledge of Allah, they are prone to a number of superstitious practices (Rood, 1994).


As might be expected, in light of the vast diversity in Islam, there are many variant beliefs among Muslims worldwide. Though there are differences of opinion surrounding their application, six articles of faith form the core of the Islamic religion.
1. Monotheism. As indicated earlier, pre-Islamic Arabs were polytheists. Due to Muhammad’s successful monotheistic campaign, Muslims recognize and devote themselves to only one God, whom they call Allah. Worshiping or attributing deity to any other being is considered by Muslims to be shirk, or blasphemy.
2. Angels and jinn. Muslims believe in a well-structured organization of angelic beings. At the lowest level in the hierarchy of spirit beings in Islamic thought are the jinn, who are capable both of committing good and evil deeds, and of inhabiting human beings. After his first frightening encounter with Gabriel, Muhammad feared that he was possessed by one of these potentially fiendish beings. The angels of God are above the jinn in rank. In Islamic angelology, each Muslim is accompanied by two angels—one on the right, the other on the left. This angelic pair is responsible for recording the good and evil deeds of the Muslim, respectively.
3. God’s holy books. The Qur’an refers to numerous other volumes that Muslims consider as God’s holy books. Chief among these Islamic sacred texts are: the Mosaic Law; the Davidic Psalms; the Gospel (Injil) given to Jesus; and the Qur’an revealed to Muhammad. Muslims, following Muhammad’s allegation, contend that the original Torah (Pentateuch), Psalms, and Gospels have been corrupted by Christian and Jewish writers, and essentially lost. As the final revelation from God, the Qur’an supersedes all previous revelations and truth claims (Shorrosh, 1988, p. 30).
4. God’s prophets. Muslims believe that there has been a long succession of prophets through whom Allah revealed his will. While there is no consensus regarding the exact number of prophets, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are considered the five prophetic predecessors to Muhammad. There seems to be universal agreement among Muslims that Muhammad was God’s supreme and final prophet—the “seal” of the prophets.
5. Resurrection and Judgment. Similar to elements of Christian eschatology, Muslims believe in a general resurrection of humankind, followed by a final judgment. In this connection, human works are central. How successful a Muslim was at keeping the mandates of Islamic law determines his or her eternal fate. Those who have accomplished more good deeds than bad will be admitted into paradise, a place abounding with sensual pleasures (e.g., luxury, physical comfort, abundant food, lovely maidens, etc., see sura 4:57-58; 37:45-48). Those who are deficient in good deeds will be consigned to hell in which, among other excruciating torments, they will be attired in fiery garments (sura 22:19-20; cf., 18:28-29).
6. Predestination. Though not a mandatory doctrine, most Muslims accept a rigid form of predestination reflected in the comment made by the devout: “If Allah wills it.” This belief holds that all events, good or bad, are determined directly by Allah. It is thus the function of the dedicated Muslim to “submit to that divine determination with obedient thankfulness,” though he or she still must face Allah’s strict justice (Shorrosh, 1988, p. 32).


As already indicated, human works play a crucial role in Islam. The most important works or duties generally acknowledged by Muslims may be summarized in what are commonly called the “Five Pillars of Islam.”
1. The creed (kalima or shahada). “La ilaha il’ Allah, Muhammadan Rasoulu Allah.” These words, translated, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah,” constitute the essential creed of Islam. This is the first duty of every Muslim, for it is necessary to recite this creed before at least two witnesses to become a Muslim. And, the faithful Muslim will repeat this creed constantly.
2. Prayers (salat). Muslims, regardless of their social or economic status, submit to a rigorous daily regimen of prayer. Five times a day (only three for Shi’ites), Muslims respond to the call to prayer by the muezzin (a Muslim crier) from a tower called a minaret, which is part of the mosque (the place of public worship). They recite prescribed prayers together with the appropriate action of placing the forehead to the ground. Regardless of their geographic location, the faithful Muslim will face toward Mecca and perform this prayer ritual at the appropriate intervals. It is further incumbent on all adult male Muslims to gather each Friday at noon for community prayer, and to hear a weekly sermon.
3. Almsgiving (zakat and sadaqa). Orphaned himself at a young age, Muhammad was very sensitive to the plight of the destitute. Though some do so more extensively than others, several Qur’anic suras emphasize the duty of Muslims to give alms (2,4,19,23,33,107). Almsgiving is divided into two broad categories. The zakat are the legal alms, which require that Muslims allocate 2.5% (one-fortieth) of their income and merchandise for this charitable purpose. Different percentages are assigned to agricultural produce and cattle. The sadaqa are free-will offerings that are above and beyond the legally binding proportion of almsgiving.
4. Fasting (Ramadan). During the month of Ramadan (the ninth lunar month of the Islamic year), all healthy, adult Muslims (except pregnant women, nursing mothers, and travelers) are required to abstain from food, liquids, and sexual intercourse during daylight hours. There are both historical and theological reasons for Ramadan. Historically, Muslims believe that during the ninth lunar month, Muhammad received the first revelations from God and that during this same month, he and his followers made their historic escape from Mecca to Medina. Theologically, the fast helps develop a Muslim’s self-control, reliance on Allah, and sympathy for the poor.
5. The Pilgrimage (Hajj). Every Muslim is expected to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime. Since the rituals involved in the pilgrimage are physically demanding, the old or infirm can perform this duty by proxy. The Hajj serves to solidify Islamic faith, and to promote the ideas of worldwide unity and equality among Muslims (Rood, 1994; McDowell, 1983, p. 392).
6. The Holy War (jihad). Though not a part of the Five Pillars, the jihad is a duty usually associated with them. The word means “exertion” or “struggle” on behalf of God. Muslims are divided regarding the Qur’an’s call to jihad. Extremists interpret jihad as literal warfare against non-Muslims, and believe that Muslims who die in a holy war are assured of a place in paradise. More moderate interpreters suggest that the Qur’an’s call to arms refers to a specific incident of Muhammad’s armed conflict with his enemies, and should neither be applied universally nor pressed literally (Al-Ashmawy, 1995, p. 158).
In addition to these basic beliefs and practices, Muslims are guided by numerous laws and traditions contained in the hadith. The hadith, which was compiled after the Qur’an was completed, reportedly contains Muhammad’s examples and statements regarding various topics. The Qur’an and hadith address virtually every aspect of life, making Islam not just a religion, but an all-encompassing way of life.


In this installment, I have surveyed briefly the complex landscape of Islam. In the following article, I will attempt to identify the points of tension between Christianity and Islam, and offer a response to the latter’s core beliefs.


Al-Ashmawy, Sai’d (1996), “Islam’s Agenda,” Readers Digest, pp. 156-160, January.
Anderson, Norman (1975), “Islam,” The World’s Religions, ed. Norman Anderson (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Geisler, Norman L. and Abdul Saleeb (1993), Answering Islam (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Humble, B.J. (1980), “The Religion of Iran [Part I],” Firm Foundation, 97[4]:52, January 22.
Kerr, David (1982), “The Unity and Variety of Islam,” Eerdmans’ Handbook to the World’s Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Kung, Hans (1986), “Sunnis and Shi’ites: The State, Law, and Religion: A Christian Response,” Christianity and World Religions, ed. Hans Kung (Garden City, NY: Doubleday).
McDowell, Josh and Don Stewart (1983), Handbook on Today’s Religions (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers).
Rood, Rick (1994), What Is Islam? [Online]. (Richardson, TX: Probe Ministries). URL http://www.gocin.com/probe/islam.htm.
Schmalfuss, Lothar (1982), “Muhammad,” Eerdmans’ Handbook to the World’s Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Shorrosh, Anis A. (1988), Islam Revealed: A Christian Arab’s View of Islam (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson).
Wilson, Christy (1982), “The Qur’an,” Eerdmans’ Handbook to the World’s Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

The Claim of Inspiration by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


The Claim of Inspiration

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Do biblical claims of divine inspiration really mean anything? Should we stress the fact that thousands of times in the Bible a person can find sentences prefaced by the words “God said…” or “Thus said the Lord God…”? Recently I received a letter that read: “To say that ‘all scripture is by inspiration of God’ is pointless double-speak that proves nothing!” Is this an accurate statement?
Admittedly, the mere claim that a certain document is inspired of God does not mean He actually inspired it. If a person attempts to defend the inspiration of the Bible solely on the premise that the Bible claims inspiration, likely his efforts to convince an unbeliever will fail. Simply because a particular book claims to be from God does not mean that it is from God. However, to say that the claim of inspiration “is pointless double-speak” greatly diminishes the importance of such a claim.
The fact is, the claim of inspiration at the hand of God is extremely rare. Many books assert special importance, while others claim to be a kind of “creed book.” But, as Kenny Barfield noted in his book, Why the Bible is Number 1, only seven documents exist in the whole world that openly claim divine inspiration (1997, p. 186). Sadly, misguided devotees of various religions clamor about, defending books and various writings as allegedly being “inspired of God” when, in fact, the books themselves do not even make such a claim. Take for instance, the many Hindu writings. Of their six most notable “sacred” texts, including the Vedas, the Laws of Manu, and the Puranas, only the section of the Vedas known as the Rig Veda claims inspiration. Similarly, the Christian Science group has led many to believe that the writings of Mary Baker Eddy are inspired. Yet, even though her writings claim special importance, they never openly claim divine inspiration (Barfield, p. 186). Why would anyone want to follow a creed book and claim it is from God when the book itself does not even make such a claim?
I repeat: the claim of inspiration at the hand of God is extremely rare. For this reason, one of the best places to begin a Bible study with someone concerning the Bible’s divine origin is with these claims of divine inspiration (cf. 2 Samuel 23:2; Acts 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21; etc.). Such claims are only “pointless double-speak” if we never continue to give evidence proving that the Bible truly is a book from Almighty God.
Are there other books in the world that claim inspiration? Yes, but they are few and far between. And none of them exhibits such amazing qualities as the predictive prophecy and scientific foreknowledge that can be found in the Bible. Furthermore, the unity of the Bible and its accurate historical documentation of biblical people, places, and events is unparalleled in human history and bears testimony to the fact that the very existence of the Holy Scriptures cannot be explained in any other way except to acknowledge that they are the result of an overriding, superintending, guiding Mind.


Barfield, Kenny (1997), Why the Bible is Number 1 (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers)

Right, Wrong, and God's Existence by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Right, Wrong, and God's Existence

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

Everyone in the world believes that some things are right and other things are wrong. At times, people do not agree on the exact way to decide whether something is right or wrong. But it is undeniable that the concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, do exist.
The person who does not believe that God exists has only one choice when it comes to explaining morality—man must have thought it up by himself. However, since man is seen as little more than the last animal to be produced by evolution, this becomes problematic. A lion does not feel guilty after killing a gazelle for its lunch. A dog does not feel remorse after stealing a bone from another dog. And a female pig feels no guilt after eating her newborn piglets. Yet man, who is supposed to have evolved, feels both guilt and remorse when he commits certain acts that violate his “moral code.” The simple fact that we are discussing morals establishes that morality—which is found only in humans—had to have a cause other than evolution. After all, one ape never sat around and said to another, “Today, I think we should talk about right and wrong.” Even the famous atheist George Gaylord Simpson of Harvard admitted that “morals arise only in man.” What, or should we say, Who, instilled a conscience in humans? The apostle Peter provided the only legitimate answer. In 1 Peter 1:16, he wrote that we should be holy because God is holy. The only possible source of knowledge regarding right and wrong is the almighty God who embodies all that is good. In Ecclesiastes 7:29, wise King Solomon wrote: “Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”
To suggest that the morality inherent in all mankind evolved from a warm pool of inorganic slime in the great long ago is an inadequate explanation. Morals could only have been placed in mankind by a Being who understood, even to a greater degree than men, the difference between right and wrong. This knowledge should lead us to follow the directive Jesus gave in Matthew 5:48: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Is God Immoral for Killing Innocent Children? by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Is God Immoral for Killing Innocent Children?

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

Dan Barker and many of his atheistic colleagues claim that atheism offers the world a superior system of morality when compared to the moral system presented in the Bible. In fact, near the end of Dan’s ten-minute rebuttal speech during our debate, he stated: “We can know that the atheistic way is actually a superior intellectual and moral way of thinking” (Butt and Barker, 2009). One primary reason Dan gave for his belief that the Bible’s morality is flawed is that the Bible states that God has directly killed people, and that God has authorized others to kill as well. In Dan’s discussion about Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Dan said that Abraham should not have been willing to obey God’s command. Dan stated: “By the way, Abraham should have said, ‘No, way. I’m better than you [God—KB], I’m not going to kill my son’” (Butt and Barker, 2009).
In his book godless, Barker said: “There is not enough space to mention all of the places in the bible where God committed, commanded or condoned murder” (2008, p. 177). The idea that God is immoral because He has killed humans is standard atheistic fare. In his Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris cited several Bible verses in which God directly or indirectly caused people to die. He then stated: “Anyone who believes that the Bible offers the best guidance we have on questions of morality has some very strange ideas about either guidance or morality” (2006, p. 14). In his landmark atheistic bestseller, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins wrote the following as the opening paragraph of chapter two:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully (2006, p. 31, emp. added).
After listing several Old Testament verses pertaining to the conquest of Canaan, Dawkins referred to God as an “evil monster” (p. 248). Christopher Hitchens wrote that God’s actions and instructions in the Old Testament had caused “the ground” to be “forever soaked with the blood of the innocent” (2007, p. 107).
Is it true that atheism offers a superior morality to that found in the Bible? And is the God of the Bible immoral for advocating or directly causing the deaths of millions of people? The answer to both questions is an emphatic “No.” A close look at the atheistic claims and accusations will manifest the truth of this answer.


The extreme irony of the atheistic argument against God’s morality is that atheism is completely impotent to define the term “moral,” much less use the concept against any other system. On February 12, 1998, William Provine delivered a speech on the campus of the University of Tennessee. In an abstract of that speech, his introductory comments are recorded in the following words: “Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent” (Provine, 1998, emp. added). Provine’s ensuing message centered on his fifth statement regarding human free will. Prior to delving into the “meat” of his message, however, he noted: “The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them” (1998).
It is clear then, from Provine’s comments, that he believes naturalistic evolution has no way to produce an “ultimate foundation for ethics.” And it is equally clear that this sentiment was so apparent to “modern naturalistic evolutionists” that Dr. Provine did not feel it even needed to be defended. Oxford professor Richard Dawkins concurred with Provine by saying: “Absolutist moral discrimination is devastatingly undermined by the fact of evolution” (Dawkins, 2006, p. 301).
If atheism is true and humans evolved from non-living, primordial slime, then any sense of moral obligation must simply be a subjective outworking of the physical neurons firing in the brain. Theoretically, atheistic scientists and philosophers admit this truth. Charles Darwin understood this truth perfectly. He wrote: “A man who has no assured and ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution and reward, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones” (1958, p. 94, emp. added). Dan Barker admitted this truth in his debate with Peter Payne, when he stated: “There are no actions in and of themselves that are always absolutely right or wrong. It depends on the context. You cannot name an action that is always absolutely right or wrong. I can think of an exception in any case” (2005).
If there is no moral standard other than human “impulses and instincts,” then any attempt to accuse another person of immoral behavior boils down to nothing more than one person not liking the way another person does things. While the atheist may claim not to like God’s actions, if he admits that there is a legitimate standard of morality that is not based on subjective human whims, then he has forfeited his atheistic position. If actions can accurately be labeled as objectively moral or immoral, then atheism cannot be true. As C.S. Lewis eloquently stated:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust...? Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple (Lewis, 1952, pp. 45-46, italics in orig.).
If there truly are cases of justice and injustice, then God must exist. Furthermore, we will show that the God of the Bible never is unjust in His dealings with humanity. On the contrary, the atheistic position finds itself mired in injustice at every turn.


Generally, the atheistic argument against God’s morality begins with blanket statements about all of God’s actions or commands that caused anyone to die. When the case is pressed, however, the atheistic argument must be immediately qualified by the concepts of justice and deserved punishment. Could it be that some of God’s actions were against people who had committed crimes worthy of death? Sam Harris noted that he believes that the mere adherence to certain beliefs could be a legitimate cause for putting some people to death (2004, pp. 52-53). Almost the entirety of the atheistic community admits that certain actions, such as serial killing, theft, or child abuse, deserve to be punished in some way. They do not all agree with Harris that the death penalty may be appropriate, but they would argue that some type of punishment or preventive incarceration should be applied to the offender.
Once the atheistic community admits that people who break certain laws should be punished, then the only question left to decide is how they should be punished and to what extent. Atheists may quibble with God’s idea of divine punishment, but it has been sufficiently demonstrated that their arguments cannot be reasonably defended (see Lyons and Butt, 2005, 25[2]:9-15; see also Miller, 2002). Knowing that the idea of justice and the concept of legitimate punishment can be used effectively to show that their blanket accusations against God are ill founded, the atheists must include an additional concept: innocence.
The argument is thus transformed from, “God is immoral because He has killed people,” to “God is immoral because He has killed innocent people.” Since human infants are rightly viewed by atheists as the epitome of sinless innocence, the argument is then restated as “God is immoral because He has killed innocent human infants.” Dan Barker summarized this argument well in his debate with Peter Payne. In his remarks concerning God’s commandment in Numbers 31 for Moses to destroy the Midianites, he stated: “Maybe some of those men were guilty of committing war crimes. And maybe some of them were justifiably guilty, Peter, of committing some kind of crimes. But the children? The fetuses?” (2005, emp. added).
It is important to note, then, that a large number of the instances in which God caused or ordered someone’s death in the Bible were examples of divine punishment of adults who were “justifiably guilty” of punishable crimes. For instance, after Moses listed a host of perverse practices that the Israelites were told to avoid, he stated: “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:24-25, emp. added).
Having said that, it must also be recognized that not all the people God has been responsible for killing have been guilty of such crimes. It is true that the Bible documents several instances in which God caused or personally ordered the death of innocent children: the Flood (Genesis 7), death of the first born in Egypt (Exodus 12:29-30), annihilation of the Midianites (Numbers 31), death of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15), etc. Using these instances, atheists claim that God cannot be moral because He kills innocent children. Atheists then insist that modern-day atheism would never approve of such, and thus atheism is morally superior to the morality of the biblical God.


A closer look at atheistic morality, however, quickly reveals that atheists do not believe that it is morally wrong to kill all innocent children. According to the atheistic community, abortion is viewed as moral. In his debate with John Rankin, Dan Barker said that abortion is a “blessing” (Barker and Rankin, 2006; see also Barker, 1992, pp. 135, 213). One line of reasoning used by atheists to justify the practice is the idea that humans should not be treated differently than animals, since humans are nothing more than animals themselves. The fact that an embryo is “human” is no reason to give it special status. Dawkins wrote: “An early embryo has the sentience, as well as the semblance, of a tadpole” (Dawkins, 2006, p. 297)
Atheistic writer Sam Harris noted: “If you are concerned about suffering in this universe, killing a fly should present you with greater moral difficulties than killing a human blastocyst [three-day-old human embryo—KB]” (2006, p. 30). He further stated: “If you are worried about human suffering, abortion should rank very low on your list of concerns” (p. 37). Many in the atheistic community argue that unborn humans are not real “persons,” and killing them is not equivalent to killing a person. Sam Harris wrote: “Many of us consider human fetuses in the first trimester to be more or less like rabbits; having imputed to them a range of happiness and suffering that does not grant them full status in our moral community” (2004, p. 177, emp. added). James Rachels stated:
Some unfortunate humans—perhaps because they have suffered brain damage—are not rational agents. What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering, would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used—perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food (1990, p. 186, emp. added).
Isn’t it ironic that Dan Barker protested to Peter Payne that God could not cause the death of an unborn human “fetus” and still be considered moral, and yet the bulk of the atheistic community adamantly maintains that those fetuses are the moral equivalent of rabbits? How can the atheist accuse God of immorality, while claiming to have a superior morality, when the atheist has no moral problem killing babies?
In response, God’s accusers attempt to draw a distinction between a “fetus” in its mother’s womb, and a child already born. That distinction, however, has been effectively demolished by one of their own. Peter Singer, the man Dan Barker lauds as one of the world’s leading ethicists, admits that an unborn child and one already born are morally equivalent. Does this admission force him to the conclusion that abortion should be stopped? No. On the contrary, he believes we should be able to kill children that are already born. In his chapter titled “Justifying Infanticide,” Singer concluded that human infants are “replaceable.” What does Singer mean by “replaceable”? He points out that if a mother has decided that she will have two children, and the second child is born with hemophilia, then that infant can be disposed of and replaced by another child without violating any moral code of ethics. He explained: “Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him. The total view treats infants as replaceable” (2000, p. 190, emp. added; see also Singer, 1983).
He went on to argue that many in society would be aghast at killing an infant with a disability like hemophilia—but without good reason according to his view. He argued that such is done regularly before birth, when a mother aborts a child in utero after prenatal diagnosis reveals a disorder. He stated:
When death occurs before birth, replaceability does not conflict with generally accepted moral convictions. That a fetus is known to be disabled is widely accepted as a ground for abortion. Yet in discussing abortion, we say that birth does not mark a morally significant dividing line. I cannot see how one could defend the view that fetuses may be “replaced” before birth, but newborn infants may not (2000, p. 191, emp. added).
Singer further proposed that parents should be given a certain amount of time after a child is born to decide whether or not they would like to kill the child. He wrote: “If disabled newborn infants were not regarded as having a right to life until, say, a week or a month after birth it would allow parents, in consultation with their doctors, to choose on the basis of far greater knowledge of the infant’s condition than is possible before birth” (2000, p. 193). One has to wonder why Singer would stop at one week or one month. Why not simply say that it is morally right for parents to kill their infants at one year or five years? Singer concluded his chapter on infanticide with these words: “Nevertheless the main point is clear: killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all” (p. 193, emp. added).
It is clear, then, that atheism does not have moral constraints against killing all innocent babies, but rather only those innocent babies that the atheistic community considers “worthy” to live. How in the world would a person make a moral judgment about which children were “worthy to live?” Singer, Harris, and others contest that a child’s age in utero, mental capability, physical disability, or other criteria should be used to formulate the answer. Dan Barker has given his assessment about how to make such moral decisions. He claimed that “morality is simply acting with the intention to minimize harm.” He further insisted that the way to avoid making mistakes in ethical judgments is to “be as informed as possible about the likely consequences of the actions being considered” (2008, p. 214).
Using Barker’s line of reasoning, if God knows everything, then only He would be in the best possible situation to know all the consequences of killing infants. Could it be that all the infants born to the Amalekites had degenerative genetic diseases, or were infected with an STD that was passed to them from their sexually promiscuous mothers? Could it be that the firstborn children in Egypt, or Abraham’s son Isaac, had some type of brain damage, terminal cancer, hemophilia, etc.? The atheistic community cannot accuse God of immorally killing infants and children, when the atheistic position itself offers criteria upon which it purports to justify morally such killing.
Once again, the atheistic argument must be further qualified. The argument has moved from: “God is immoral because He killed people,” to “God is immoral because He killed innocent babies,” to “God is immoral because He killed innocent babies that we feel would not have met our atheistically based criteria for death.” Ultimately, then, the atheistic position argues that atheists, not God, should be the ones who decide when the death of an innocent child is acceptable.


As with most logically flawed belief systems, atheism’s arguments often double back on themselves and discredit the position. So it is with atheism’s attack on God’s morality. Supposedly, God is immoral for killing innocent children. Yet atheists believe the death of certain innocent children is permissible. Have we then simply arrived at the point where both atheistic and theistic morality are equally moral or immoral? Certainly not.
One primary difference between the atheistic position and the biblical position is what is at stake with the loss of physical life. According to atheism, this physical life is all that any living organism has. Dan Barker stated: “Since this is the only life we atheists have, each decision is crucial and we are accountable for our actions right now” (2008, p. 215, emp. added). He further commented that life “is dear. It is fleeting. It is vibrant and vulnerable. It is heart breaking. It can be lost. It will be lost. But we exist now. We are caring, intelligent animals and can treasure our brief lives” (p. 220). Since Dan and his fellow atheists do not believe in the soul or any type of afterlife, then this brief, physical existence is the sum total of an organism’s existence. If that is the case, when Barker, Harris, Singer, and company advocate killing innocent babies, in their minds, they are taking from those babies all that they have—the entirety of their existence. They have set themselves up as the Sovereign tribunal that has the right to take life from their fellow humans, which they believe to be everything a human has. If any position is immoral, the atheistic position is. The biblical view, however, can be shown to possess no such immorality.


Atheism has trapped itself in the position of stating that the death of innocent children is morally permissible, even if that death results in the loss of everything that child has. Yet the biblical position does not fall into the same moral trap as atheism, because it recognizes the truth that physical life is not the sum total of human existence. Although the Bible repeatedly recognizes life as a privilege that can be revoked by God, the Giver of life, it also manifests the fact that death is not complete loss, and can actually be beneficial to the one who dies. The Bible explains that every person has a soul that will live forever; long after physical life on this Earth is over (Matthew 25:46). The Bible consistently stresses the fact that the immortal soul of each individual is of much more value than that individual’s physical life on this Earth. Jesus Christ said: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
Although the skeptic might object, and claim that an answer from the Bible is not acceptable, such an objection falls flat for one primary reason: the skeptic used the Bible to formulate his own argument. Where is it written that God is love? In the Bible, in such passages as 1 John 4:8. Where do we learn that the Lord did, indeed, kill or order the death of babies? Once again, that information comes directly from the Bible. Where, then, should we look for an answer to this alleged moral dilemma? The answer should be: the Bible. If the alleged problem is formulated from biblical testimony, then the Bible should be given the opportunity to explain itself. As long as the skeptic uses the Bible to formulate the problem, we certainly can use the Bible to solve the problem. One primary facet of the biblical solution is that every human has an immortal soul that is of inestimable value.
With the value of the soul in mind, let us examine several verses that prove that physical death is not necessarily evil. In a letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul wrote from prison to encourage the Christians in the city of Philippi. His letter was filled with hope and encouragement, but it was also tinted with some very pertinent comments about the way Paul and God view death. In Philippians 1:21-23, Paul wrote: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (emp. added).
Paul, a faithful Christian, said that death was a welcome visitor. In fact, Paul said that the end of his physical life on this Earth would be “far better” than its continuation. For Paul, as well as for any faithful Christian, the cessation of physical life is not loss, but gain. Such would apply to innocent children as well, since they are in a safe condition and go to paradise when they die (see Butt, 2003).
Other verses in the Bible show that the loss of physical life is not inherently evil. The prophet Isaiah concisely summarized the situation when he was inspired to write: “The righteous perishes, and no man takes it to heart; merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness” (57:1-2, emp. added). Isaiah recognized that people would view the death of the righteous incorrectly. He plainly stated that this incorrect view of death was due to the fact that most people do not think about the fact that when a righteous or innocent person dies, that person is “taken away from evil,” and enters “into peace.”
The psalmist wrote, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). Death is not inherently evil. In fact, the Bible indicates that death can be great gain in which a righteous person is taken away from evil and allowed to enter peace and rest. God looks upon the death of His faithful followers as precious. Skeptics who charge God with wickedness because He has ended the physical lives of innocent babies are in error. They refuse to recognize the reality of the immortal soul. Instead of the death of innocent children being an evil thing, it is often a blessing for that child to be taken away from a life of hardship and evil influence at the hands of a sinful society, and ushered into a paradise of peace and rest. In order for a skeptic legitimately to charge God with cruelty, the skeptic must prove that there is no immortal soul, and that physical life is the only reality—neither of which the skeptic can do. Failure to acknowledge the reality of the soul and the spiritual realm will always result in a distorted view of the nature of God. “The righteous perishes...while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil.”
We then could ask who is moral: the atheist who has no problem approving of the death of innocent children, while believing that he is taking from them the only life they have? Or an all-knowing God Who takes back the physical life He gave the child, exchanging it for an eternal life of happiness?


Once the atheistic position is forced to concede that it advocates the killing of babies, and that if there is an afterlife, then the biblical description of God’s activities could be moral, then the atheist often shifts his argument in a last ditch effort to save face. If death can be, and sometimes is, better for the innocent child or for the Christian, why not kill all children and execute all Christians as soon as they come up out of the waters of baptism (see Lyons and Butt, n.d.)? The atheist contends that if we say that death can be a better situation for some, then this position implies the morally absurd idea that we should kill every person that death would benefit.
Before dealing with this new argument, it should be noted that we have laid the other to rest. We have shown that it is impossible for atheism to accuse God of immorality in His dealings with innocent children. Since atheism’s attack against God’s character has failed on that front, the maneuver is changed to accuse the follower of God of not carrying his belief about death to its alleged logical conclusion by killing all those who would benefit. One reason that atheists argue thus is because many of them believe that humans have the right to kill those who they deem as “expendable.” Of course, atheism does not base this judgment on the idea that certain babies or other innocent people would benefit, but that society at large would benefit at the expense of those who are killed. Here again, notice that God is allegedly immoral because He “sinned” against innocent children by taking their lives; yet atheism cares nothing for innocent children, but for the society of which they are a part. In truth, atheism implies that once a certain category of people, whether unborn babies, hemophiliacs, or brain-damaged adults, is honestly assessed to be “expendable,” then humans have the moral right, and sometimes obligation, to exterminate them. The atheist berates the Christian for not taking his beliefs far enough, in the atheist’s opinion. If certain people would benefit from death, or in atheism’s case, society would benefit from certain people’s death, then the atheist contends we should be willing to kill everyone who would fall into that category. If we are not so willing, then the atheist demands that our belief involves a moral absurdity. Yet, the fact that death is beneficial to some cannot be used to say we have the right to kill all those that we think it would benefit.

What Humans Do Not Know

One extremely significant reason humans cannot kill all those people that we think might benefit from death is because we do not know all the consequences of such actions. Remember that Dan Barker stated that the way to make moral decisions was to “try to be as informed as possible about the likely consequences of the actions being considered” (2008, p. 214). Could it be that human judgments about who has the right to live or die would be flawed based on limited knowledge of the consequences? Certainly. Suppose the hemophiliac child that Singer said could be killed to make room for another more “fit” child possessed the mind that would have discovered the cure for cancer. Or what if the brain-damaged patient that the atheistic community determined could be terminated was going to make a remarkable recovery if he had been allowed to live? Once again, the biblical theist could simply argue that God is the only one in the position to authorize death based on the fact that only God knows all the consequences of such actions. The atheistic community might attempt to protest that God does not know everything. But atheism is completely helpless to argue against the idea that if God knows everything, then only He is in the position to make the truly moral decision. Using Barker’s reasoning, when God’s actions do not agree with those advocated by the atheistic community, God can simply answer them by saying, “What you don’t know is....”
It is ironic that, in a discussion of morality, Barker offered several rhetorical questions about who is in the best position to make moral decisions. He stated: “Why should the mind of a deity—an outsider—be better able to judge human actions than the minds of humans themselves...? Which mind is in a better position to make judgments about human actions and feelings? Which mind has more credibility? Which has more experience in the real world? Which mind has more of a right?” (1992, p. 211). Barker intended his rhetorical questions to elicit the answer that humans are in a better position to make their own moral decisions; but his rhetoric fails completely. If God is all-knowing, and if God has been alive to see the entirety of human history play out, and if only God can know all of the future consequences of an action, then the obvious answer to all of Barker’s questions is: God’s mind.
Additionally, there is no possible way that humans can know all the good things that might be done by the Christians and children that live, even though death would be better for them personally. The apostle Paul alluded to this fact when he said that it was better for him to die and be with the Lord, but it was more needful to the other Christians for him to remain alive and help them (Philippians 1:22-25). Books could not contain the countless benevolent efforts, hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, humanitarian efforts, and educational ventures that have been undertaken by Christians. It is important to understand that a Christian example is one of the most valuable tools that God uses to bring others to Him. Jesus noted that when Christians are following His teachings, others see their good works and glorify God (Matthew 5:13-16). Furthermore, the lives of children offer the world examples of purity and innocence worthy of emulation (Matthew 18:1-5). While it is true that death can be an advantageous situation for Christians and children, it is also true that their lives provide a leavening effect on all of human society.

Ownership and Authorization

The mere fact that only God knows all consequences is sufficient to establish that He is the sole authority in matters of human life and death. Yet, His omniscience is not the only attribute that puts Him in the final position of authority. The fact that all physical life originates with God gives Him the prerogative to decide when and how that physical life should be maintained. In speaking of human death, the writer of Ecclesiastes stated: “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (12:7, emp. added). The apostle Paul boldly declared to the pagan Athenians that in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). If God gives life to all humans, then only He has the right to say when that life has accomplished its purpose, or under what circumstances life may be legitimately terminated.
In addition to the fact that God gives life and, thus, has the authority to take it, He also has the power to give it back if He chooses. Throughout the Bible we read of instances in which God chose to give life back to those who were dead, the most thoroughly documented example of that being the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Butt, 2002, 22[2]:9-15). In fact, Abraham alluded to this fact during his preparations to sacrifice Isaac. After traveling close to the place appointed for the sacrifice, Abraham left his servants some distance from the mountain, and said to them: “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5). Notice that Abraham used the plural pronoun “we,” indicating that both he and Isaac would return. The New Testament gives additional insight into Abraham’s thinking. Hebrews 11:17-19 states: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten...accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead...” (emp. added). Since God gives physical life to all, and since He can raise people from the dead, then any accusation of injustice that fails to take these facts into account cannot be legitimate.


It is evident that atheism has no grounds upon which to attack God’s character. Atheists contend that a loving God should not kill innocent babies. But those same atheists say that killing innocent babies could be a blessing under “the right” circumstances. Atheists contend that God is immoral for taking the lives of innocent children. Yet the atheist believes that it is permissible to take the lives of innocent children, when doing so, according to their belief, means that those children are being robbed of the sum total of their existence. Yet, according to the biblical perspective, those children are being spared a life of pain and misery, and ushered into a life of eternal happiness. Atheism contends that its adherents are in a position to determine which children should live and die, and yet the knowledge of the consequences of such decisions goes far beyond their human capability. Only an omniscient God could know all the consequences involved. The atheist contends that human life can be taken by other humans based solely on reasoning about benefits to society and other relativistic ideas. The biblical position shows that God is the Giver of life, and only He has the authority to decide when that life has accomplished its purpose. In reality, the atheistic view proves to be the truly immoral position.


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