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Consequences of Errant Theology

An oft-repeated refrain regarding Muhammad, the “prophet” of Islam, goes like this: “It’s too bad that he didn’t engage with real Christ followers. Just think, he might have become a Christian and Islam would never have come into existence!” While it’s impossible to ascertain exactly how much exposure Muhammad had to orthodox Christians, we do know that on several occasions he interacted with so-called Christians who either engaged in outright heresy or at the least espoused unorthodox beliefs.


Here are examples of Muhammad’s exposure to Christianity:


Caravan travels regularly took Muhammad north into what is today Syria. Along the way, he met Christian priests and monks, visited Christian monasteries, and no doubt encountered both “real” and “unorthodox”—even heretical—Christians.


According to Islamic history, when Muhammad received his first revelation in 610 A.D., the experience frightened him. Sahih al-Bukhari, the most respected compiler of Islamic Hadith (“tradition” volumes which record the extra-Quranic sayings and actions of Muhammad), provides the following regarding Muhammad’s post-first revelation shock:   


Narrated 'Aisha: The Prophet returned to Khadija [his wife] while his heart was beating rapidly. She took him to Waraqa bin Naufal who was a Christian convert. Waraqa asked [the Prophet], “What did you see?” When he told him, Waraqa said, “That is the same angel whom Allah sent to the Prophet Moses. Should I live till you receive the Divine Message, I will support you strongly.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, Book 55, No. 605)


Waraqa was a relative of Muhammad’s wife, Khadija. The question becomes: “Was Waraqa a ‘real’ Christian?” The obvious answer is, “Had he been a real Christian he would not have identified Muhammad’s visitor as ‘the same angel whom Allah sent to the Prophet Moses.’” In other words, Waraqa’s answer is a dead giveaway that he was not a real Christian. Again, it is surmising, but perhaps it would have made a difference if Waraqa had been a genuine Christian—and could have explained to Muhammad that his “revelations” were demonically inspired. Thus, rather than encouraging Muhammad to continue receiving revelations, perhaps he could have put an end to what became the 114 nefarious chapters of the Quran.


Muhammad had exchanges with the Christian community of the Najran, a region of southwestern Arabia. Najrani “preachers” regularly visited the Okaz festival held annually just outside Mecca. Unfortunately, the Najranis held a strange doctrine about the person of Jesus called Miaphysitism. They believed that Jesus was both divine and human, but strangely had only one nature.


Other Heretical Beliefs About Jesus During the First

Few Centuries of Christianity


While it is doubtful that Muhammad was exposed to all of these, still these theological errors poisoned the atmosphere and gave rise to multiple unorthodox positions regarding the person and nature of Jesus. In addition to the strange Najrani belief about the nature of Jesus, here are several others: 


Jesus was adopted and purely human. This is the view that Jesus was born a human being with no divine aspect whatsoever. One such early sect that held this belief were the Ebionites. The Ebionites were Jewish followers of Jesus and primarily lived in Palestine and its surrounding regions. The Ebionite Christians believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah sent from God to the Jewish people in fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. The Ebionites saw Jesus as the adopted Son of God. They held that Jesus was born human and that he became God’s son by adoption during his baptism, chosen by God because of his sinless devotion to the will of God. It’s important to note that, for the Ebionites, Jesus did not pre-exist and was never an object of worship because they believed he was inferior to God.


Jesus was purely divine and not human at all. This view is an opposite extreme to that of the Ebionites. It is the belief that Jesus had no human aspect at all and was purely divine. One such group which held these beliefs were the Marcionites, who believed that Jesus was not truly a part of this material world. He did not have a flesh-and-blood body and was not actually born. Although he appeared to be human, his human form was merely an illusion. Jesus was purely divine with no human aspect whatsoever.


Jesus was both human and divine. There were several sub-groups within this category. One group, known technically as Subordinationists, believed that Jesus was divine and that he was created by God the Father; thus, Jesus was not equal to the Father but subordinate to him. Another group believed that Jesus was always divine and that when Jesus became human, he became an additional person. So, Jesus existed as two beings: the man Jesus of Nazareth, who was human, and the Christ, who was completely divine. Those who held this belief are known as Separationists.


Jesus was a created being. This heresy, called Arianism, was proclaimed by an influential fourth century Alexandrian priest and presbyter named Arius. Arius espoused the belief that the Son, or the Word, was created out of nothing, and that there was a time when He did not exist.


Jesus was a God-inspired man. Nestorianism is defined as “The doctrine of Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople (appointed in 428), by which Christ is asserted to have had distinct human and divine persons.” Nestorianism denied the reality of the incarnation and represented Christ as a God-inspired man rather than as God/man.


Jesus was the offspring of God and Mary. Another heresy that contributed to the Islamic “misunderstanding of Jesus” was the ill-named belief that Jesus’ mother should be called “Mary, the mother of God.” This misunderstood term offered fertile soil for the Muslim conclusion that God and Mary had union and produced a son—Jesus.


Upon reading these paragraphs, you might be thinking, “It’s no wonder that Muhammad rejected the divine nature of Jesus, as well as his cardinal actions while on earth—mainly his divinity, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension.” It is likely that some of the heresies Muhammad encountered did influence him. In conclusion, however, there certainly is no excuse for Muhammad’s egregious positions on the person and nature of Jesus. He simply allowed himself to be entangled with Satanic influences and the result was that he rejected all the essential beliefs about Jesus’ nature and actions.


Again, it is uncertain how much these errant beliefs influenced Muhammad. We do know that the Quran addresses some of these issues; thus, it is fair to say that Muhammad was at least peripherally familiar with some of the errant “Christian” beliefs; especially those about the person and nature of Jesus.


In closing, I remind you of the refrain at the beginning of this article: “It’s too bad that Muhammad didn’t engage with real Christ followers. Just think, he might have become a Christian and Islam would never have come into existence!” Maybe. Maybe not. We simply cannot know. However, we might draw a personal application from these few paragraphs and determine that with our own lives and actions we need to reflect an orthodox theological picture of the person of Jesus. After all, we never know who might be watching, and the consequences of errant theology are severe!

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