Friday, February 10, 2017

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review- According to the Other Abrahamic Faiths

Judy Yates Siker, author of the Presbyterian Women’s Bible study, Who is Jesus? : What a Difference a Lens Makes., in the eighth lesson focuses on Islam and Judaism and their views about Jesus’ identity. Siker’s focuses is meant as a means of understanding and dialogue with the two other Abrahamic faiths. She writes:

“It may seem at first to be an unusual excursion for a Christian Bible study, but as Christian women of faith, we should be informed about how these two traditions view Jesus and be willing to engage in dialogue with our sisters and brothers of other faiths.”

At the end of the lesson, Siker also lifts up the importance of not only understanding other faiths but of also not misrepresenting them. She writes:

“… We are painfully aware of the possibilities for tragedy that arise when we abuse our Bibles at the expense of another group. We are also painfully aware of how much misinformation is spread when we do not take the time to learn anything about others who may have more in common with us then we are willing to recognize. In this ever shrinking world of ours, we encounter many people whose faith traditions are not our own, so we have the opportunity, privilege, and responsibility to learn from one another. …”

Siker is right, Christians should have knowledge of these two religions and they should be in dialogue with their adherents, but there is a greater reason why Christians should have such knowledge. And there is a dimension to that knowledge which Siker does not address.

Jesus’ commandment to go and make disciples of all nations is the greatest reason for knowing about the beliefs of other faiths.[1] And the dimension that is missing in Siker’s lesson is how differing faiths, in one way or another, contradict the biblical understanding of sin, repentance and redemption, thereby eliminating the need for a suffering savior—a God whose compassion takes on humanity and makes the ultimate sacrifice.  The good news of the gospel is the ultimate good news. There is no other.

In a way, Siker has emphasized the ultimate good news with a quote from the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides—“Even if he should tarry, I shall wait for him.” After quoting this saying of Maimonides, Siker writes, “Throughout history, there has been an expectation that the messiah would come, that God’s plan for the world will be complete someday. This belief has kept many Jews from giving up hope, even in the dark times of persecution.”

I read the Maimonides quote and thought that is surely Scripture. The text is in Habakkuk 2:3. In most texts it is stated with an impersonal “it.” For instance in my NASV it states:

For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.”

But looking at the various translations at Gateway led me to the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin 97b which states, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though he tarry, wait for him; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Italics mine) And of course the author of Hebrews picks up the messianic prophecy understanding it to be referring to Jesus our Lord. He adds Habakkuk 2:4 reminding the reader that “the righteous shall live by faith.” At least the Rabbis and the New Testament writer agree, this is the messiah.

But the Messiah has come, Jesus. And because of that Christians have an obligation, but of the heart, to be both friends and witnesses to their Jewish sisters and brothers.

A side note, because Siker is focusing only on the two faiths’ views about Jesus she lumps all of Judaism into one viewpoint which is not consistent with the various branches of Judaism. Not all Jews believe in a personal coming Messiah. Some simply believe in a coming messianic kingdom or a utopian age. Reformed Jews are more inclined to see humanity progressing toward a golden age. Orthodox Jews are those who look for a personal Messiah. Beyond this is Reconstruction Judaism which even denies a personal God.[2]

Siker’s information about Islam and its view of Jesus is good as far as it goes. There is so much more that needs to be said, and there is a subtle use of the Islamic view of Jesus and the cross by means of “Suggestions to leaders” and a reference to the art used for this lesson. It is a miniature of “the ascension of Jesus.” The instruction simply suggests looking at the picture, reading the small blurb about it and finding all of the things going on in the picture. But the story of the picture is about God causing Jesus’ executer to appear to be Jesus. The executer is killed and Jesus ascends to heaven without dying.

It is important to note that there is no need for the cross in Islam. The eternal Son does not take on human flesh and die in the Muslim faith. As Timothy George writes in his book, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?:

“The cross (or death) of Jesus is mentioned in most of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Its reality and meaning permeate all of them. Yet Muslims deny that Jesus ever suffered and died on the cross. There can be no Christianity without this event. There can be no Islam with it. As the distinguished Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr has said, the noncrucifixion of Jesus is ‘the one irreducible fact separating Christianity and Islam, a fact which is in reality placed there providentially to prevent a mingling of the two religions”

To those in the Muslim faith, must also bring friendship and witness of a dying but living savior.

Because there is a real need for information about what Islam and Judaism believe and how to witness in a winsome, careful and effective way I will, with this review, add some books and links for the reader.


The book I have mentioned above:

Timothy George. Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? Understanding the Differences Between Christianity and Islam. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2002).

The next book is by a black Reformed Baptist pastor who was once a Muslim by choice. He in the past has participated in respectful and informative debates with Islamic scholars of the Middle East.

Thabiti Anyabwile. The Gospel for Muslims: An encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence. (Chicago: Moody Publishers 2010).

Judaism & Islam:

The next book covers most world religions with good chapters on both Judaism and Islam.

Dean Halverson, General Editor. The Illustrated Guide to World Religions. (Bethany House 2003).

This book explains very carefully what each religion believes, what their communities are like, and effective ways of witnessing to the adherents. There is advice such as, “Don’t argue with your Muslim friend. Understand that a Muslim cannot lose an argument, because he or she would then lose face. Try to sensitively stimulate your friend’s thinking instead.”

And dos, “Handle the Bible with respect. The custom in Islamic countries is to not lower the Qur’an below the waist. Muslims also keep the Qur’an on the highest shelf in the house, for nothing should be placed upon the Qur’an. Also they consider it a sign of disrespect to write in the Qur’an or the Bible.

For Judaism there is a long list that has an importance far beyond witnessing. For instance:

“Jewish” is a word that should be used only to describe people, land, religion, or language. If you refer to ‘Jewish money’ or Jewish control of the media,” you may well be harboring anti-Semitic attitudes.”


“’The cross’ symbolizes persecution for many Jews. It is better to speak about ‘the death of Jesus.”


I am ending this posting by putting a video of Thabiti Anyabwile debating with a Muslim scholar at The Muslim - Christian dialogue in 2009 in Dubai, UAE sponsored “by the Christian Fellowship Club of the University of Wollongong in Dubai with corporate sponsor GDS Knowledge Consultants. This is just a small part that begins with the Islamic scholar Bassam Zawadi while most of the video is of Anyabwile. If you click on YouTube on the video you can find the other videos of the debate.


[1] (See Matthew 28: 18-20, as well as John 4: 34-38; Luke 15; Acts; Romans 10.)
[2] Two often leadership and organizations within the PC (U.S.A.) when they align on issues with those of the Jewish faith do so only with Reformed Judaism or Reconstruction Judaism. While this lesson seems to be on the side of and tolerant of those Jews who are orthodox, that is, believing in a coming messiah, in reality progressive Presbyterians view orthodox Jew’s views on several issues such as homosexuality as intolerant.   

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