Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Christ and the Qur'an

Helpful post over at Desiring God:
Christian faith must go on being translated, must continuously enter into vernacular culture and interact with it, or it withers and fades.

Islamic absolutes are fixed in a particular language, and in the conditions of a particular period of human history. The divine Word is the Qur’an, fixed in heaven forever in Arabic, the language of original revelation.

For Christians, however, the divine Word is translatable, infinitely translatable. The very words of Christ himself were transmitted in translated form in the earliest documents we have, a fact surely inseparable from the conviction that in Christ, God’s own self was translated into human form.

Much misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims has arisen from the assumption that the Qur’an is for Muslims what the Bible is for Christians. It would be truer to say that the Qur’an is for Muslims what Christ is for Christians. (The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History, 29)
Read the entire post HERE.


JS Allen said...

The premises are false, and the analogy is exceedingly strained.

First, the Quran is just as translatable as the Bible, and the vast majority of the world's Muslims do not read it in Arabic or hear it in Arabic at their mosques. If anything, the Catholic Christian Church's historical insistence on Latin pre Vatican II posed a far greater burden on homogeneity than Islam ever has.

Second, understanding the Bible in original language and historical context is just as important as it is for Quran. There is a reason that the great theologians have been experts in Koine and ancient Hebrew.

Third, Christian theology by nature is no more or less susceptible to change than Islamic theology. We have ample historical evidence that both systems have undergone periods of both liberalization and retrograde conservativism. It's bizarre for a supposedly conservative Christian who affirms the ancient creeds to somehow argue that Islam is, by nature, less changeable than Islam. The facts don't bear it out.

Todd Pruitt said...

1. You're wrong. The Qur'an is only considered the true Qur'an when it is in Arabic. If you don't know this then you don't know the first thing about Islam.

2. NOTHING in the post denies the importance of knowing the Bible in its original language. I'm confused how you even got that from reading the post. The whole issue is that the Bible is STILL the Bible when it is in English, Japanese or Hebrew.

3. Again, we must be reading different posts.

JS Allen said...

"If you don't know this then you don't know the first thing about Islam."

Maybe... I've studied Islam for more than 20 years. I previously lived in Dearborn, which has the largest Arab population outside the Middle East, and studied in the Islamic reading rooms there. I speak some Arabic (but don't read), and I own multiple translations of the Quran and have read it multiple times over 20 years. (My Yusuf-Ali translation sits right next to my book of common prayer and my pre-Vatican II Marian Missal). I also own and have studied most of the works of al-Banna, Maududi, Qutb, etc. But I definitely can make mistakes.

"The Qur'an is only considered the true Qur'an when it is in Arabic."

I think we need to be clear about what this statement means. For what purposes is a non-Arabic Quran unacceptable? Obviously, original Arabic has primacy in Quran translation and theological exegesis, just as Koine and Hebrew take primacy in Biblical translation. We both know people who say that the Bible is only considered the true Bible if it's "textus receptus", but I think this is all orthogonal to the OP.

I was reacting, in part, to the specific verbatim assertion in the OP: "For Christians, however, the divine Word is translatable, infinitely translatable"

Piper is asserting that the Quran is not translatable? That a Quran translated into Farsi or Urdu is somehow not a "true Quran" suitable for study, instruction, and meditation? For practically any purpose that a translation of the Bible is acceptable, a translation of the Quran is also acceptable. Piper's statement gives the appearance of being profound, but is ultimately vacuous and misleading.

Additionally, I was reacting to this claim, also quoted verbatim: "Islamic absolutes are fixed in a particular language, and in the conditions of a particular period of human history"

Is Piper asserting that the ancient Christian absolutes do not require exegetes to understand "a particular period of human history" or have knowledge of the "original language"? Again, it's a superficially profound statement that purports to contrast Islam and Christianity, which is seen to be vacuous upon further investigation.

I appreciate his effort to set himself up as the wise man who is "above" the "misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims". But it seems that he's just compounding the misunderstanding by claiming stark differences where there are none.

Todd Pruitt said...

Well, I've seen Lawrence of Arabia one and half times.

I think you are eisegeting the post by Piper. What you are taking from it is not at all what I take from it which causes me to question that there is more going on in your mind. I think you are, for what ever reason, reading into Piper's words ("straining at gnats"?)

Again, I renew my objection to your point about the original languages. Christians value Hebrew and Greek for VERY different reasons than Muslims value Arabic. Certainly you know this even if you haven't seen Lawrence of Arabia.

Also, I think it is very difficult for you to challenge the thesis of Piper's post. Burning a Bible is not the same thing in the mind of a Christian as is burning a Qur'an to a Muslim.

JS Allen said...

There is no eisegesis going on; I quoted Piper's exact words, and explained why they are inaccurate.

"Burning a Bible is not the same thing in the mind of a Christian as is burning a Qur'an to a Muslim."

Sadly, that's not the thesis of his post. It appears that you are the one doing eisegesis. The thesis of Piper's post is that Muslims react strongly to Quran burning because Quran burning is somehow analogous to crucifying Christ. That claim is absurd on multiple levels, which I didn't even bother bringing up, apart from pointing out that his two premises are false. To review, his two false premises were: A) That the Quran uniquely posits fixed absolutes that require historical and linguistic context, and B) That the Bible is uniquely translatable.

These are the two clear premises he claims, and both are patently false. If you want to disagree, you'll need to explain either that he didn't say these things (which I quited verbatim), or else argue that his two claims are true (which they're not).

I can only assume that Piper was attempting to relay some variation of this argument, which is only slightly more coherent than Piper's version. The earlier post claims, "In Muslim theology, the Qur’an is a verbatim incarnation of God’s word". As I said, I have studied Islam for more than 20 years, and I have no idea where they are getting this idea that Muslims believe the Quran is "God's word incarnate". It's utterly bizarre. It's as if Piper and Bruce are fabricating stuff out of thin air. If you're going to disagree, you need to provide proof, not just claim that I'm misunderstanding Piper or Bruce.

Muslims emphatically do not believe that the Quran is God's word incarnate. They simply believe that the Quran is the direct, inspired, inerrant word of God -- just as many Christians believe about the Bible to this day. Burning Bibles would've gotten you killed in much of Christian history, too, FWIW.

Todd Pruitt said...

We have a fundamental disagreement.

For something to be analogous does not mean there is a one-to-one correspondence. I would not use the word "incarnate" to describe a Muslim's attitude toward the Qur'an. However the larger point that burning a Qur'an is more like (analogous) crucifying Christ than burning a Bible is valid. Again, it is analogous, not a one-to-one correspodence.

Also, your final point is a bit gratuitous and seems to suggest a kind of moral equivalency. It also has not a single thing to do with the continued violence of Muslims against Christians.

JS Allen said...

I'm just noticing that quite a few others have picked up this same Piper quote, so no point in me arguing with you about it. I do enjoy your blog.

The comment about historical attitudes toward Bible-burning was simply to suggest that Muslim intolerance toward Quran-burning could be due to the current historical context, just as it was with Bible-burning. I don't see even a slight comparison to crucifying Christ (and I can't imagine modern Christians murdering Muslims over desecration of crucifixes or whatever). But that may just be me..

kat said...

Quran burning and its effects---both Islamophobia and its consequent backlash against Christians is the result of current geopolitical circumstances---in other words---the wars the West is engaged in. One might want to scapegoat history or religion so that we can ignore the real cause---but that "real cause" isn't going to go away because we ignore it.

The Quran is read and heard in Arabic---the word itself (Quran) means recitation and Muslims "recite" it in Arabic as an act of prayer.---that does not mean all Muslims understand the Arabic they are reciting. So translations and tafsir are also important. 60% of the 1.5 billion or so Muslims are in the East (not middle east---that accounts for only 15%) By the East I mean, central and southeast Asia, the subcontinent, the far east.....

Quran and Christ---It is true that a Muslim would never equate the Quran with Jesus Christ(peace be upon him)---this is a Christian construct.

The Guidance of the Quran is both time-bound and timeless at the same time. Therefore it is important to understand the historical context it was revealed in and acted upon,(tafsir) and it is equally important to understand and implement that message/Guidance to life today. Both the time-bound and timeless aspects are intertwined.

language---Arabic itself is a lived language and has changed over time. The Arabic of the Quran is considred "classical" if you will. The Quran is not "inspired" the way Christians understand the term---(as used for the bible). The Prophet(pbuh) was not "inspired"---he spoke the words exactly as they were revealed without modification or error. Each and every letter of the Quran is placed in the exact place it was meant to be placed, even though it is not chronological...nor was it written down in book form at the time of the Prophet. (complete Quran did exist in written but fragmentary form)The Arabic Quran in use today is, word for word, letter for letter exactly the same as the original revelation---and all 1.5 billion Muslims use exactly the same Arabic Quran.

Todd Pruitt said...


I sense a religious commitment to Islam on your part.

Please understand that the Qur'an you hold in your hand today is not exactly the same as the one composed by Muhammed. Older texts of the Qur'an which contained contraditions or textual variants were always destroyed because of the reliance on the theory of divine dictation.

Also, your insistance that the violence of Muslims is a consequence of the wars of the West is sadly misinformed. Violence is part of the warp of woof of Islamic history. You do know that the U.S. has saved more Muslim lives than any other nation in history, don't you? You do know that Muslims are responsible for more Muslim deaths than anyone else, don't you?

Why is it that no one worries about violence against Muslims when Muslims desecrate Bibles or kill more Christians? But what happens when a Danish cartoonist draws a picture? What happens when goofy redneck preacher burns a Qur'an?

Kat, with all due respect, spare us the tired old excuses for Muslim violence. It's been going on for over 1,500 years.