Abrogation or Progressive Revelation: Islam versus Christianity

Abrogation or Progressive Revelation: Islam versus Christianity

Surah 2:106 of the Qur’an reads: “Such of Our revelations as We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof. Knowest thou not that Allah is Able to do all things?” (from The Glorious Qur’an translation)

Another edition of the Qur’an, The Holy Qur’an translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, reads slightly differently: None of our revelations Do We abrogate Or cause to be forgotten, But We substitute Something better or similar: Knowest thou not that God Hath power over all things?

Though the renderings differ, the meaning is obvious; earlier verses received by Muhammad were replaced by later verses. And abrogation, the replacing of doctrines, is of great interest.


Very early Muhammad received from Gabriel[1] the message that the Jews and Christians, people of the Book as they were known, and who shared a similar origin with Muslims, were not counted as disbelievers.

First, from The Glorious Qur’an:

“Lo! Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans[2] – whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right – surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve.”

Then from the Ali translation: Those who believe (in the Qur’an) And those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), And the Christians and the Sabians, Any who believe in God And the Last day, And work righteousness, Shall have their reward With their Lord: on them Shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

Despite the differences in the two editions of the Qur’an, it is plain that the Jews and Christians, People of the Book, were not counted as disbelievers by Muhammad.

But things changed, due to any number of reasons, but mostly because of opposition to Muhammad’s preaching from both Jews and Christians—thus was born the concept of abrogation, that is, the later truths replaced or superseded the earlier truths.

There are many instances of this in the Qur’an. One is the idea that there is no compulsion in religion. The first sentence of Surah 2:256 reads: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” But this was abrogated or changed and Islam would be forced upon disbelievers. It is interesting to note that Islam means submission, and originally it was by choice not compulsion. That changed with the opposition Muhammad received even in Mecca and especially so in Medina. It became normative that disbelievers would either be forced to convert or pay taxes to their Muslim overlords. If not, only death remained as an option. This is clearly stated in Surah 47:4. (The Ali translation)

Therefore, when ye meet The Unbelievers (in fight), Smite at their necks;[3] At length, when ye have Thoroughly subdued them, Bind a bond Firmly (on them): thereafter (Is the time for) either Generosity of ransom:

From The Glorious Qur’an is Surah 5:33:

The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom.

Of course, there are the Satanic Verses, of Salmon Rushdie fame, where Muhammad at first conceded that a particular Arab tribe’s god and goddesses would be honored, but later on, after receiving significant negative reaction from Muslim faithful, Muhammad flip flopped and condemned the worship of the pagan deities.

At one point Muhammad had compromised with a pagan Arab tribe, the Quraish, that their deities, Al Lat, Al Uzza, and Manat and said that he had received from Allah that these idols could be worshipped. While this news thrilled the Quraish, the Muslim faithful were quite unhappy about it. In time, the verses acknowledging the efficacy of the gods and goddess if the Quraish tribe were abrogated. Passages to look to on this matter are: Surahs 17:19–20, 22:52–53, and 53:19–20.

Muslims do not deny the practice of abrogation, but uphold it.

Muslims also see their religion as superseding or replacing Judaism and Christianity, as an intentional and natural progression ordained by Allah. Islam, Muslims believe, is the culmination of what is revealed in the Scripture, meaning the Old and New Testaments. Certainly Christians claim the Old Testament to be inspired by the Creator God, while official Judaism rejects the New Testament in terms of it being revealed by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Islam is not the only religion to regard their revelations to be the final message from God. This approach has been copied by many over the years including the Mormons; in fact, Islam and Mormonism share an uncanny resemblance. In Mormonism you have an angel giving the book of Mormon on golden plates that present a new and improved truth that abrogates all that went before, meaning especially Biblical Christianity.

Progressive Revelation

Christians hold that the New Testament does not make much sense apart from the Old Testament. We see the prophecies of the Messiah sprinkled throughout the Hebrew Scripture, and starting with Genesis 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

The woman, Eve of course, Mary the mother of Jesus, and also the people of God, indeed the Church, are the “woman” of Genesis 3:15, and it has so been understood down through the centuries. The offspring of the woman delivers a deathblow to Satan, the serpent, while the serpent merely bruises the offspring’s heel. And that is how it worked out, just as Genesis said. The Apostle John would much later write: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b).

Then there is Psalm 22 where King David describes a man dying on a cross, and written just about 1000 years before the actual even takes place. Not only that, but the Greeks, history tells us, did not use crucifixion as a means of execution for centuries after David wrote his Psalm. Then the Romans picked it up from the Greeks some centuries later.

The Psalm begins with words Jesus spoke while on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This forsakenness is the subject of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. (see Mark 14:32–42) In verses 16 to 18 of Psalm 22 we find,

For dogs encompass me, a company of evil doers encircles me, they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.

There is more from this Psalm that makes it clear David is depicting a man dying on a cross.

In the eighth century before Christ, the prophet Isaiah describes the suffering servant of Israel who dies for sin as an atoning sacrifice to the holy God of Israel.

I will limit myself to just a few verses, but the whole of the chapter, even parts of chapters 52 and 54, could be presented as well. Here is Isaiah 53: 5–6:

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every on to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Verse 9 of Isaiah 53 describes exactly what happened after Jesus’ death on the cross: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” Jesus died as a criminal yet buried in a rich man’s grave, that of one of the members of the elite Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea.

Isaiah did more than speak of the suffering servant of Israel, he prophesied that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. The key verse is Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Two key points are made in the verse. One, a virgin would conceive and give birth — “offspring” — (remember Genesis 3:15 and the offspring of the woman). And two, the child would be God. Immanuel means, God with us. There it is, the child is actually God become flesh. Here is how the Apostle John put it: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a). We note that in verse one of chapter one of the John’s Gospel he makes it clear that the “Word” is God.

Then the prophet Micah, long centuries before Jesus’ day, describes His birthplace. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me, one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5–2). And that is just where Jesus was born, Bethlehem.

There is Daniel’s prophecy that actually describes the period of time when the Son of Man would appear. And also the prophet Malachi stating that there would be a forerunner announcing the coming of the Messiah crying in the wilderness to prepare the way for the arrival of that long promised Messiah. And it would be fulfilled when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to be baptized in the Jordan River. John cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

The point is, everything about Jesus, from who He is, what He did, when He did it, and what it meant — all is outlined centuries before the events took place in real time.

The Distinction

Abrogation is utterly different from progressive revelation. In the Qur’an, changes in policy and understanding forced Gabriel, Allah, Muhammad, someone, to change their mind. The Jews and Christians would be tolerated for only a few short years, until, boom, not tolerated anymore.

Progressive revelation is God beginning at one point and moving throughout history toward the end goal, His ultimate intention, which is to bring those made in His image, those whom He called to be His chosen people, to once again have perfect fellowship with Him in Paradise.

The difference between Islam and Biblical Christianity could not be greater.

Two more little things

Works and Grace

Muslims depend on getting lots of points by performing rites and rituals so that they have a chance of going to paradise when they die. Stated another way, Islam is works based. It all depends on what one does. The sure way to get to Paradise is to die in violent jihad, or maybe if one builds a mosque. It any case it is chancy since Allah is a deceiver and might just lead one astray.

Going to heaven to be with Jesus forever and ever depends on the grace of God that is freely given to lost sinners like myself. I cannot earn it, achieve it, or work so very hard and die a martyr — no, nothing at all will make it happen, as it all depends on the love that God has for us. “For God so loved the world, the he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). And even the “believes” part is a gift as Paul points out in Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one my boast.”

World Views

I do have to mention a second really huge difference between Islam and Christianity, and that has to do with the fundamental goals of the two religious systems.

Islam intends, as commanded by Allah in the Qur’an, to dominate the world. The state and the religion will be one and all under Shariah Law – this is the Muslim worldview. And this accomplished by whatever means necessary, and is the reason for the horrors perpetrated by Muslims who take the Qur’an seriously.

Christianity has one goal this side of the return of Messiah Jesus, and that is summed up by Jesus Himself in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Christians are to present the message of Christ and the Holy Spirit does the rest. It is as Paul says in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Jesus, both who He is and what He did on the cross, is presented, simply preached, and those whom God has called will be convicted of their sin, the Holy Spirit will reveal Jesus as the Savior, and the miracle of conversion will take place.

Yes, there have been times when Christendom[4] got it wrong and combined with military power, forced conversions, as if such a thing were possible.

Biblical Christianity is evangelical and true Christianity has always had its evangelicals, from day one, and by evangelical I mean all those, regardless of what group they belonged to, went about preaching Jesus.

The contrasts between Islam and Christianity are nearly endless, but this essay at least points out some of the more dramatic ones.

[1] The exact process by which Muhammad received the recitations from Allah that eventually became the Qur’an, through the angel Gabriel, is unclear. Allah did not appear to Muhammad nor did Muhammad hear directly from Allah. The intermediary, Gabriel was either physically present, or Muhammad heard the angel’s voice, or Muhammad’s mind was ‘impressed’ and such impressions were passed on to others. This last idea is more probable since it appears Muhammad would enter a trance state to receive the revelations from Gabriel.

[2] There is no nation or tribe known today as the Sabaeans, and little is know of their history.

[3] ‘Smite at their necks” came to mean beheading.

[4] “Christendom” refers to the visible church and not the invisible Church, which is known only to God. It is not to be assumed that what the visible church has done over the centuries to be representative of Biblical Christianity.

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