The Mustard Seed

I never cease to be amazed at how many ways the aspects of Christian and Islamic theology can be contrasted. For example, in each religion, often the very same symbol is used as an illustration. For example, Jesus uses the mustard seed to illustrate a point in the Bible. Similarly, the Qur’an uses the mustard seed to illustrate a point in the Qur’an. Yet the very same item is used as an avenue to illustrate two drastically opposing concepts.

In the Bible, there are two parables that use a mustard seed to make a point. One of them occurs in Matthew 13 and regards the growth and expansion of the kingdom of heaven. The other, which we will examine in more detail, occurs in Matthew 17. To put the parable in context, Jesus has just transfigured himself, and He and the disciples have come down from the mountain where they meet a man whose son is demon possessed (Matthew 17:15). The man had already been in contact with Jesus’ disciples, who were unable to do anything about it (Matthew 17:16). Jesus heals the boy (Matthew 17:18) and it is here where the story picks up in verse 19,

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

The issue at hand is faith. How much faith must you have? According to Jesus, the amount of faith required to accomplish the seemingly impossible is tiny. The mustard seed is used as this illustration because of its miniscule size. It takes the smallest amount of faith in order to connect with God and subsequently perform good works. God also makes it clear in the Bible that it is faith alone which leads to salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The result of even the tiniest amount of faith is not just the path to salvation, but the power of God to then tap into His power (Ephesians 2:10). While Jesus’ parable doesn’t explicitly refer to salvation, it is about faith, and how much you are required to have. The point is that the mustard seed is used as a measure of faith, which is what leads to salvation, which is what later leads to good works.

The Qur’an also mentions the mustard seed. This verse in the Qur’an references salvation more directly. It specifically tells the Muslim faithful about the accuracy of measurement when their deeds are weighed and their eternal destiny will be determined.

[21.47] And We will set up a just balance on the day of resurrection, so no soul shall be dealt with unjustly in the least; and though there be the weight of a grain of mustard seed, (yet) will We bring it, and sufficient are We to take account.

Here the Qur’an refers to the scales that will be used to measure a person’s good deeds against their bad deeds on the day of judgement. If the scales are heavy with good deeds, the Muslim can go to paradise. If the scales are light, the Muslim will spend eternity in Hellfire. Here the mustard seed is used as an illustration of how exacting the measurement will be. If your bad deeds outweigh your good deeds by just a smidgeon, your fate is sealed. The Qur’an has other such verses that reiterate the same concept. For example, consider chapter 99, verses 6-8

[99.6-8] On that day men shall come forth in sundry bodies that they may be shown their works. So he who has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it. And he who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.

Ultimately, Allah’s decision on the Muslim’s salvation is measured by good deeds versus bad deeds, and everything, no matter how microscopic, will be counted.

So in both Christianity and Islam, the mustard seed is used to signify how tiny something must be in order to be counted. Yet what it refers to isn’t just different, but completely antithetical. In Islam, the smallest of acts can be counted against your account. In Christianity, the smallest amount of faith in Jesus provides access to eternal life with Him. Both religions use the tiny mustard seed to make an example, yet the same object represents two totally different conceptions of salvation.

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Answering Jihad

One of the most volatile and misrepresented subjects when discussing Islam is that of jihad. Yet it’s a topic that gets more than its fair share of air time. Conversations on this Islamic religious teaching tend to drift into the arena of politics, which can often be both divisive and unproductive. For these and other reasons, I tend to avoid the subject, except occasionally for a more theological and historical piece such as this previous article that discussed the crusades. Thankfully, people more skilled than I have tackled the hard questions related to jihad in a concise and coherent manner.

Answering Jihad is the latest book released by Nabeel Qureshi. Nabeel Qureshi has authored several books now, including Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, and No God but One: Allah or Jesus. He is currently on staff with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. As a former Muslim, he has a unique understanding and capacity to write on this subject with both authority and compassion.

Nabeel Qureshi shared some of the same aversions to writing about jihad as I did. In the first paragraph of his introduction, he explains that “I informed [my editor] explicitly that I never wanted to write a book on jihad because the topic is so charged that even broaching the subject makes one’s intentions appear suspect.”[i] Of course, the topic continued to come up over and over again after his talks, and so finally he relented and tackled it head on. Qureshi does not shy away from any of the tough questions, such as “Is Islam a religion of peace,” “What is Radical Islam,” and “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” Most importantly, he approaches the questions from a balanced yet candid perspective. He puts forth this wild and little understood notion that someone can criticize Islamic teachings while simultaneously loving our Muslim neighbors.

He approaches the subject of whether or not Islam is a religion of peace in the most straightforward and unbiased perspective that I have seen. He comes at it from a number of different angles. One example comes in the chapter where he deals with the common assertion that Islam just needs to undergo a reformation. This precipitated what I thought was the best line of the book.

“I have heard many people, frustrated by the increasing frequency and scale of Islamic terrorism, suggest that Islam needs a reformation. What they may not realize is that radical Islam is the reformation.”[ii]

That indeed is the powerful and misunderstood irony of the current movements within Islam.

Unraveling Islam focuses on the differences between the god of the Qur’an and the God of the Bible. So I would be remiss if I didn’t provide Qureshi’s take on the question. He adeptly explains why people often mistakenly assume Allah and YHWH are the same being. Then he plainly spells out the errors in this line of thinking. Many articles on this blog have verbalized that the similarities between the two are superficial at best, while in-depth analysis shows how intrinsically opposite they are. Qureshi articulates this assertion in very much the same way,

“The similarities between the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are superficial and at times merely semantic. Though Islam claims that the Muslim God has done some of the same things as the Christian God and sent some of the same people, these are minor overlaps and far less essential to the reality of who God is than fundamental characteristics of his nature and persons. Islam and Christianity overlap in points on the former, but they differ fundamentally on the latter.” [iii]

That sums it up perfectly. Nevertheless, this book is not a scholarly dissertation of the theological differences between Christianity and Islam. Rather, it is a book that suggests a better way forward; a way that we as Christians can embrace the people who are currently caught and trapped within this false religion. Muslims are coming to the United States in great numbers. Rather than being afraid, the church can instead view this as an amazing opportunity. Many of those Muslims who are here now are college students who are training here in order to return to Muslim countries to be movers and shakers, people of great influence in spiritually empty places. Maintaining intellectual integrity about who Allah is not while simultaneously reaching out to Muslims amongst us showing who Jesus is for the glory of God’s kingdom is the challenge of our day. Qureshi skillfully encapsulates the tough issues that correspond to this unique and present opportunity.

[i] Qureshi, Nabeel. Answering Jihad. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, p 9.
[ii] ibid, p. 75
[iii] ibid, p. 114

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A Tale of Two Trees

The differences between Islam and Christianity are innumerable. Some are immediately and obviously profound. Others seem trivial at first, but expose a deeper theological rift. Consider the almost irrelevant detail of what tree Adam and Eve ate from in the Garden of Eden. The Qur’an and the Bible give divergent descriptions of what this tree was. This seemingly inconsequential discrepancy reveals a much richer truth about the God of the Bible and the god of the Qur’an.

In Genesis 2:17 God instructs Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both Adam and Eve disobeyed and did eat of it. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the story given in the Qur’an has divergent details. According to the Qur’an, what tree did Adam and Eve eat from? Here is the relevant section,

[20.120] But the Shaitan made an evil suggestion to him; he said: O Adam! Shall I guide you to the tree of immortality and a kingdom which decays not?

Faced with this glaring discrepancy between the two texts, many present day Islamic scholars assert that Muslims don’t really know what the tree was. But early Islamic commentators had no trouble stating which tree it was. Ibn Kathir says in his commentary on the Qur’an:

Iblis did not cease prodding them until they both had eaten from it. It was the Tree of Eternity (Shajarat Al-Khuld). This meant that anyone who ate from it would live forever and always remain [i]

In the Qur’an, they took from of the tree of immortality, or eternity. In the Bible, Adam and Eve took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why even bother pointing out such a small difference?

The first theological difference that comes to mind is the direct implications of this action. Within Islam, this transgression is viewed as a mistake relating only to Adam. Islam teaches he repented of it, and was forgiven, thus transmitting no consequences to his descendants. Even the immediate removal from the Garden of Eden is not defined as a punishment.

“Adam and Eve left heaven and descended upon earth. Their descent was not one of degradation; rather it was dignified.” [ii]

However, the implications within Christianity are monumental. Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is what brought sin into the world, and consequently its ramifications. This is especially pertinent in light of the Bible’s discussion of this topic in great detail, culminating in Romans 5:18 and 5:19. The fact that the Qur’an completely ignores these consequences of sin is an area that merits its own exploration. Yet there is something much less obvious happening here. As always, it’s the more subtle avenue of thought that will be pursued here.

In the Garden of Eden, there was another tree mentioned, the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). Nowhere does the Bible say this tree was forbidden from Adam and Eve. In fact, the implication is that the fruit of this tree was given to them, (Gen 2:16) and that Adam and Eve could have lived forever in a perfect and pure state before God had they not disobeyed. This tree of life appears again in Revelation 22:2, and then another time in Rev 22:14, which emphasize the privilege of partaking of that tree for those who are in heaven. Of course God doesn’t need a tree in paradise to grant us eternal life, but for whatever reason, God mentions it again nonetheless. This tree of life was only off-limits to Adam and Eve after they partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because they then could “live forever” (Gen 3:22) in their unredeemed state.

It is this tree of life, which matches the tree mentioned in the Qur’an, the tree of immortality. In both cases, partaking of this tree gives life in some supernatural way. But look closely at how this tree of immortality, or tree of life, is portrayed in the Bible compared to that of the Qur’an.

The Qur’an portrays the partaking of the tree of immortality as an evil and punishable act that requires repentance. In the Bible, eating from this same tree of life is the reward given to those who through a relationship with Jesus are granted eternity with God. Within Islam, that which gives life is forbidden, and that which brought death and our need for redemption is discounted. With Christianity, that which gives life is our eventual reward and that which brings death was what was originally forbidden. In Islam, the tree of life was off-limits while within Christianity, the tree of life is a gift of life given by God.

Even the minor discrepancies reveal the bizarre depths of theological disagreement.



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