Last week we addressed the first of three main arguments that the Koran describes to justify an apparent distrust of Jews and Christians. We reasoned that it was conceivable that God sent Mohammed to invite the Ishmaelites back to a relationship with Himself.
Today we shall address the second argument, which is that the Jewish and Christian religious leaders knowingly falsified their religion and made it inconsistent with the religion of Abraham. We shall examine whether it is likely that the teachings of the Jewish and Christian religious leaders, around the time that Mohammed was alive, were consistent with their faiths.
Abraham was called a friend of God, which essentially describes the personal relationship between himself and God, a relationship to which Jews, Christians and Muslims aspire. When the Israelites strayed from this relationship, God considered their behaviour adulterous, and sent prophets to invite them to return to Him. God summarised their behaviour through His prophet Isaiah: “These people draw near to me with their mouth and honour Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me, And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
When Jesus arrived approximately 2,000 years after Abraham, he found a respected religious leadership. This leadership effectively controlled the people through strict adherence to religious traditions that were inconsistent with their faith. Jesus summarised their behaviour by saying: “You have made the commandment of God no effect by your tradition.” The harshest words found in the Bible are actually mentioned by Jesus, and are reserved for religious leaders who distract people from a personal relationship with God in this manner. Here is a sample of His words from Matthew Chapter 23.
“For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not lift them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. Woe to you, for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. You travel land and sea to win one convert, and when he is won, you make him twice a son of hell as yourselves. You also outwardly appear righteous to men but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. How can you escape the condemnation of hell.”
Predictably, the religious leaders plotted to kill Him.
Approximately 600 years later, Mohammed appears to have encountered a Jewish and Christian leadership that exhibited similar incongruous behaviour. He noted: “They took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides God. Verily there are many of the rabbis and monks who devour the wealth of the mankind in falsehood and hinder them from the way of God. O people of the scripture, why do you mix truth with falsehood and conceal the truth while you know.”
The behaviour of the Christian religious leadership described in the Koran, is not inconsistent with that described in a reading of Church history between 300 and 600 AD. The dominant Church leadership of that time, appeared to concentrate mainly on religious doctrine and ritual, amassing wealth, and pursuing state political power.
The behaviour of these religious leaders was therefore not in accordance with their faith. However, that does not mean that their faith is corrupt. Despite Jesus’ very harsh words, He still encouraged the people to follow the scriptures taught by the religious leaders, but not their corrupt or hypocritical behaviour.
If the Koran’s distrust was intended to discourage the Ishmaelites from committing the same error as the Jews and Christians, then it would appear to be justified. This error being that they allowed themselves to be controlled by religious leaders, who distracted them from a personal relationship with God by burdensome religious traditions. One of the roles of religious leaders is to liberate people to cultivate a personal relationship with God their Creator, not to attempt to control them. The most effective actions for resisting a controlling or hypocritical religious leadership are for persons to cultivate a personal relationship with God and to read the Bible for themselves.
Next week we shall address the third argument – worshipping the Messiah Jesus.