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Imitating Jesus: reading the Eternal Word

  • Ian Markham (a1)

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For the six years I was at Hartford Seminary (which is one-third Muslim), I had the enjoyable challenge of teaching Christian doctrine to Muslims. I have lost count of the number of conversations I have with Muslims who invite me to compare the Bible and the Qur'an and admit that the Qur'an looks much more like the Word of God than the Bible. In every case, I would push back and insist that they are not comparing like with like. For Christians, the primary Word of God is the Eternal Word – the Word made flesh in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, I would explain the right way to compare the Qur'an is not with the Bible but with the Eternal Word made flesh. The incarnation is the Christian equivalent of the Qur'an. And perhaps it is better to see the Bible as closer to the Hadith. At this point, the same question is asked: ‘but how is it possible to read a life?’

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1 The other advantage of this comparison is that it helps Muslims to see why the doctrine of the Trinity is necessary for Christians. Muslims believe that the Qur'an as the Word of God must be eternal and have pre-existed the creation. They do this for sound theological reasons: God's Word would not simply start but must have always been with God even in eternity past. If the Eternal Word made flesh is the Christian equivalent of the Qur'an, then one can start to understand why pre-existence of the Son became so important in Christian doctrine. And one can further understand that Christians did not want the Word of God sitting in eternity past separate from the Creator, so the doctrine of the Trinity emerged to safeguard our monotheistic commitments.

2 Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics, I/2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1963), p. 513.

3 Ibid., pp. 530–1.

4 I do of course recognise that reading the Qur'an is difficult. And I am very interested in the various ways in which the Qur'an is interpreted, particularly with the emphasis on those verses which have local significance and those which have more universal significance.

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