What’s the Difference Between the Bible and the Qur’an?
In 2015, contemporary conversations concerning the theological distinctives of Christianity and Islam reached a boiling point. Various news outlets reported that a Wheaton College professor, a professed Christian, planned on wearing a hijab during the Advent season in a show of solidarity with Muslims. This came on the heels of some particularly disparaging comments about the Muslim community by high-ranking United States government and Evangelical leaders earlier in the year. The Wheaton professor’s actions were rooted in her belief that “Christians and Muslims worshipped the same God.”
This event sparked a tremendous debate within Christianity that lasted for years. Laypersons and scholars alike engaged in constant conversations about whether the two faiths indeed worshipped the same God. Although those particular discussions have waned over recent years, understanding the irreconcilable differences between these religions remains paramount.
The distinctions between the God of Christianity and that of Islam were discussed in a recent Everyday Theology episode. However, while many important doctrinal divergences are intrinsic to this topic, one of the most significant differences lies in their respective holy books.
Both Christianity and Islam have holy books that are central to the faiths, but the reverence shown to each by their adherents is quite different. Undoubtedly, Christians hold the Bible in high esteem. It is the written word of God, and its significance is articulated in verses such as 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
The phrase “God-breathed” comes from the Greek word theopneustos and is the only time it’s used in the Bible. It refers to God’s Spirit inspiring Scripture, even though man wrote it. Yet while the Bible is divinely inspired, the actual eternal Word of God is Jesus [John 1:1–3].
Conversely, the Qur’an, a Syriac word for “recitation,” is the “eternal Word of Allah himself.” The late Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, who grew up Muslim and converted to Christianity, stated, “The Qur’an holds in Islam the place that Jesus holds in the Christian faith.”
The Qur’an comprises 114 chapters or suras, containing approximately 6,000 verses, and is slightly smaller than the Bible’s New Testament. While the Bible was written over 1,500 years to 40 different authors, Islamic tradition states that the Qur’an was revealed to one author, its final prophet Muhammad, chapter by chapter by the angel Gabriel. However, the differences between these holy books persist, particularly in the trustworthiness of the texts.
The reliability of texts within the Bible and the Qur’an comes into question when considering the ideas of progressive revelation vs. abrogation.
The biblical story unfolds through what scholars refer to as progressive revelation. It’s the idea that God gradually revealed more of Himself throughout history as part of His divine plan. The most notable example of this concept is found in the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
During the Last Supper, Jesus took His cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). The implication of the word “new” sometimes confuses readers. In this context, the “new” doesn’t negate the “old.” It fulfills it. In other words, God continued to reveal more and more of his truths as time progressed, and the ultimate fulfillment is found through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
But in the Qur’an, there’s an opposing concept at work. In general, abrogation refers to the cancellation or annulment of something, usually by legal authority. Similarly, the principle of abrogation in the Qur’an describes cases where Allah reveals verses that supersede prior ones. Since the Qur’an was primarily communicated orally, the verses were often situation dependent. This concept is relayed in sura 2.106: “None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?”
Furthermore, the more critical problem emerges in the fact that abrogation in the Qur’an often results in contradictions. For example, Sura 2:62 states, “Those who believe (in the Quran) and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians, — Any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” While Sura 3:85 says, “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to God), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter, he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (All spiritual good).”
Muslim scholars from different sects will understand those two verses differently, but these are often seen as contradictory statements. The former reveals a more pluralistic approach to “salvation” within Islam, while the latter explicitly states that it is only reserved for Islamic adherents.
Other examples can be discussed from the Qur’an, but the main point of difference is that the God of the Holy Bible does not contradict Himself. A self-refuting God is one who is flawed.
“I the Lord do not change . . .” (Malachi 3:6)
Love is a universal need. Despite one’s racial/ethnic background, political affiliation, or religious beliefs, the desire to be loved is a common yearning. The Bible not only recognizes this need but also the importance of Christians embodying this ethic: “..and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2b)
Those last three words are particularly striking . . . I am nothing. It isn’t hard to imagine that the Wheaton professor who desired to show love to a demeaned Muslim community possibly had this and similar verses serving as her heartfelt foundation. While the display of love by a Christian, especially to a non-Christian, is admirable, followers of Jesus are called to exemplify love and to express truth.
Pastor Tim Keller once said, “love without truth is sentimentality (overly emotional and lacking substance), and truth without love is harshness.” Striking that balance can be difficult but is a necessary endeavor. For the Christian, as Keller pointed out, love and truth are inextricably intertwined.
True Christian solidarity displays compassion without compromising one’s faith. Stating that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is neither loving nor true. Loving our neighbor of a different faith means respecting them enough to acknowledge significant, incompatible differences between the faiths, yet genuinely caring for them as fellow image bearers of God.
Jesus struck the perfect balance. He loved those that society hated. He welcomed the unwelcomed. He conveyed truth because He was the living embodiment of truth. May we, as His humble followers, seek to radically love our neighbors as he did, no matter their beliefs, while being consistent with our Christian convictions. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)
For more one this topic, check out this episode of Everyday Theology ⤵️