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Was Jesus the Messiah?

A Journey into the New Testament, the Quran, and the Gospel of Barnabas

I first became aware of the widespread nature of Muslim awareness of the alleged Gospel of Barnabas when preaching at a church for Iranians. Many of those present had an Islamic background before becoming Christians, while others were Muslims (followers of Islam) interested in knowing more about Jesus. It was during an open question time during the church service that someone asked me about this manuscript. I have since learnt that many Muslims from other countries, such as Turkey, refer favourably to the Gospel of Barnabas believing that it was originally written by a disciple of Jesus called Barnabas. There appears to be several reasons why hundreds of thousands of Muslims are aware of the Gospel of Barnabas,  including the fact that it mentions several times the name of Muhammad (also spelt Mohammed). For example chapter 39 of the book has Jesus Christ teaching that as soon as Adam was created and sprung up on his feet, he saw bright writing in the sky which said 'There is only one God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.' Adam then asks God to write those words onto the nails of his thumbs.

The sermon I gave looked at how the Bible describes Jesus, and how much Jesus loves all of us. It also responded to questions concerning the accuracy and reliability of the New Testament as a record of Jesus’ life and teachings. I presented  evidence showing that the New Testament manuscripts have been copied accuratly over the centuries (the formal study of this copying  is called textual criticism). The sermon drew on some of the content found in Echoes of Jesus: Does the New Testament Reflect What He Said? – available in paperback and digital formats. This Christian apologetic book provides strong historical evidence that we can know what Jesus said and did by reading the New Testament. 

Many Muslims, not just those who were listening to my sermon, who are even a little familiar with the New Testament have a host of questions as to how it compares to the Gospel of Barnabas , including whether Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah is something that Islam teaches. I have talked with some Muslims who accept that Jesus was the Messiah – in some sense of the word but I am aware that other Muslims are not certain of what to believe about Jesus.

As Jesus’ identity is set out clearly in the four New Testament gospels – which have been shown to be historically reliable in Echoes of Jesus – then if the Gospel of Barnabas was also a book compiled by a first century disciple of Jesus it should agree with the four gospels. This agreement should be particularly strong when it comes to the question of whether Jesus was the Messiah.

The other agreement that should reasonably exist concerning the identity of Jesus, is that between the Gospel of Barnabas and the Islamic book called the Quran (also spelt Qur’an and Koran). This is because those Muslim scholars who heavily promote this debatable gospel also believe that the Quran provides a truthful account of Jesus’ life and teachings.  It is unlikely that someone who believes the Quran to be a book from Allah, would also be encouraging fellow Muslims to believe in a book that opposes its teachings in major ways. 

Here is what I discovered when exploring the original sources:

  • Christian scriptures emphasise that Jesus is the Messiah

In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to in a number of ways, including the Messiah and the Christ. The title Messiah stems from the Hebrew, and the term Christ comes from the Greek. Both terms refer to someone who is anointed or chosen, and so are interchangeable. The anointing was originally carried out by the chosen person having oil ceremoniously rubbed or daubed onto their body. In the Greek language of the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as Messiah – transliterated as Messias in the Greek New Testament manuscripts – only twice: John 1: 41 and John  4:45.[1] Elsewhere the New Testament uses Christ (Christos in the Greek) very frequently. All the New Testament gospels record Jesus being called the Messiah or Christ:

 The account written by the disciple John records that John the Baptist announced Jesus as the Christ (John 1:19-30);

 The disciple Simon Peter had his knowledge of who Jesus was brought to light when Jesus questioned him:

“But what about you?” he [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-20);

 The high priest of Judaism confronted Jesus with the question that many people are still grappling with:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”. (Mark 14:61-62);

 Most importantly, Jesus referred to himself as the Christ immediately after his resurrection:

He said to them [his disciples], “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations … (Luke 24:44-48).

 • Muslim scriptures call Jesus the Messiah

The most important book in Islam is the Quran, which was written in Arabic nearly 600 years after Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus is mentioned in the Quran a number of times, but in Arabic (and often in English) by the name Isa. The author of the Quran gave this  Isa a story that has some similarities to the Jesus Christ of history – that is the Jesus of the New Testament – but also many differences. Isa in the Quran performs miracles such as the healing of people with leprosy and those who were born  blind, and bringing dead people back to life (Chapter/Sura 5:110). In all these ways Isa is the same as the historical Jesus of the four original gospels. But in opposition to these reliable accounts , the Quran's Isa isn't tortured to death on the cross so that he can be the ransom of those that ask  for forgiveness. The following words from the Quran refer to Jesus/Isa as the Messiah. Because English translations of the Quran differ, I have included two translations of the following verse from the Quran:[2]

"Behold," the angels told Mary, "God has given you the glad news of the coming birth of a son whom He calls His Word, whose name will be Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, who will be a man of honor in this life and the life to come, and who will be one of the ones nearest to God. (Chapter/Sura 3:45, Muhammad Sarwar)

When the angels said: ‘O Maryam (Mary), surely, Allah gives you glad tidings of a (particular) Word from Him named the Messiah, ‘Isa, the son of Maryam (Jesus, the son of Mary), who would be eminent and exalted, (both) in this world and in the Hereafter, and would be of those who are exceptionally intimate servants of Allah blessed with His nearness. (Chapter/Sura 3:45, Dr Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri)

I have also read that the Quran never calls Muhammad – who Muslims believe to be a prophet, and who began Islam – the Messiah. 

Another integral part of the Islamic scriptures are the Hadith. This voluminous collection refers to  the  'Messiah, the son of Mary' (Al-Bukhari Book 7, Volume 72 'Dress', hadith 789)

  • Gospel of Barnabas denies that Jesus is the Messiah, but confirms he is the Christ

Many scholars consider that the Gospel of Barnabas was fraudulently written in about the 1300s AD.[3],[4],[5] The 14th century author appears to have copied large amounts of written material from a version of the Bible called the Latin Vulgate, and from a book harmonising all four gospels into one account. He or she distorted these texts by fabricating new sayings of Jesus, editing out some of the original teachings, and inventing new scenarios. The aim was to produce a story that supported Islamic beliefs. As the Latin Vulgate was completed in 400 AD, and as the harmonisation may not have come into being until around the 1300s, then it is clear that the Gospel of Barnabas was not compiled by one of Jesus’ original disciples. As there is an abundance of evidence indicating that it is fictitious, one Muslim scholar stated that:

The vast majority of Muslim academics and scholars of comparative religion have deemed the so-called Gospel of Barnabas as pseudepigraphical, meaning that it is a forgery…[6]

Despite this view of many Islamic academics,  extremely popular Islamic websites continue to promote  the Gospel of Barnabas as as a reliable source of information about Jesus.

The Gospel of Barnabas declares that Jesus was not the Messiah:[7]

Then the disciples wept after this conversation with Jesus, and Jesus was too, when they then saw many coming to find him, for the chiefs of the priests decided among themselves to catch him [Jesus] in his talk. Therefore they sent the Levites and some of the scribes to question him, saying: 'Who are you?’

Jesus confessed, and said the truth: 'I am not the Messiah.’

They said: ‘Are you Elijah or Jeremiah, or any of the ancient prophets?’

Jesus answered: ‘No.'

Then said they: 'Who are you? Tell us clearly, in order that we may tell those who sent us.’

Then said Jesus: 'I am a voice that speaks out all through Judea, saying: "Prepare the way for the messenger of the Lord," even as it is written in Esaias.'

As the above quote is a greatly adulterated version of a New Testament account, then it is apparent that the author was intentionally purporting that Jesus was not the Messiah. However the next quote demonstrates that the same writer didn’t realise that the words Messiah and Christ are synonymous:

[Introduction: The] True Gospel of Jesus, called Christ, a new Prophet sent by God to the world: according to the description of Barnabas his apostle.

Barnabas, apostle of Jesus the Nazarene, called Christ, to all who dwell upon the earth desiring peace and consolation.

Dearly beloved, the great and wonderful God has during these past days visited us by his prophet Jesus Christ with great mercy and the provision of teaching and miracles…[8]

 • Conclusion

 I have written the above in the hope that all those interested in knowing more about Jesus will see that the earliest and most reliable documents, namely the four New Testament gospels, make it clear that Jesus is the Messiah. It is also clear that Muslims can agree that Jesus is the Messiah based on their own scriptures. Muslims need not be in doubt about Jesus being the Messiah, as the misleading Gospel of Barnabas is not part of their group of sacred texts. It seems ironic that although the Gospel of Barnabas  contradicts the Quran and the Hadith on the identity of Jesus,  many Muslim missionaries and preachers speak highly of it as a historically accurate account of Jesus .

The big question remaining is: What does it mean that Jesus is the Messiah? Here is part of what Jesus had to say about himself being the Christ:

[Jesus] looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. (John 17:1-4)

LIke so many of Jesus' words, these sentences are rich with meaning. Jesus spoke these words just before he was arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion. He begins this prayer by saying that he knows  he will soon die ('the hour has come').  He then describes his unique relationship with God the Father, wherein he is the Son.  Christians understand that whenever Jesus called himself the Son, he was not saying he was the offspring of God – as if God the Father had a wife, an abhorrent idea – but rather that he had  a one-of-a-kind relationship with God. Jesus goes on to  explain that based on this relationship he is able to give eternal life  to 'all people'.  He states that this eternal life  involves knowing 'the only true God, and Jesus Christ'.  But how is it that we can know Jesus the Messiah? How can we know him when all of us start off in life as his enemies? Jesus gave the answer a short time after his arrest and death by crucifixion, when he had come back to life and was talking with his disciples. In fact, from the time of Jesus' arrest, there is only one other time that  Jesus is quoted using  the word Christ:

The Christ [Messiah] will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem...(Luke 24:46-47)

So in order to know Jesus the Messiah – that is to change from being his enemies to his friends –  we can ask him to forgive us by taking our punishment.  I hope that everyone seriously considers this indescribably wonderful offer that he gives everyone.


[1] WD Mounce, Interlinear for the Rest of Us: The Reverse Interlinear for New Testament Word Studies, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, US, 2005, p. 859, entry 3549.

[2] For online translations of these verses from the Quran, refer to the Islamic website www.islamawakened.com/ and click Qur’an link for an index to suras in the Quran, accessed 20/03/2016.

[3] J Joosten, ‘The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron’, The Harvard Theological Review, 95(1), Jan 2002, pp. 73-96

[4] S Green, The Gospel of Barnabas, http://www.answering-islam.org/Green/barnabas.htm, accessed 24/03/2016

[5] NL Geisler & A Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross,http://www.answering-islam.org/Barnabas/saleeb.html, accessed 24/03/2016

[6] UA Ataie, What is the Islamic View on the Gospel of Barnabas?, 15 July, 2013, http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2013/07/15/what-is-the-islamic-view-on-the-gospel-of-barnabas/, accessed 24/03/2016.

[7] This is my own modern English translation of: The Gospel of Barnabas, trans. Lonsdale & L Ragg, London, 1907, digital copy available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/gbar/gbar042.htm, accessed 20/03/2016. Jesus' denial of being the Messiah is written into the Gospel of Barnabas in several places, incuding chapter 96.

[8] This is my own modern English translation of: The Gospel of Barnabas, trans. Lonsdale & L Ragg, London, 1907, digital copy available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/gbar/gbar000.htm, accessed 20/03/2016. 

 Post last updated 26 April 2016

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It is quite astounding to read in popular publications the many and varied claims about who was Jesus. These statements include that he was a Muslim, a Buddhist, the reincarnation of Krishna, a hypnotist, an illiterate peasant, and a revolutionary military leader called a zealot. To discover the truth about who Jesus said he was, it is first necessary to discover if Jesus was interested in motivating his disciples to preserve what he taught. If Jesus did not portray himself as being a teacher, then it is less likely that the words of the New Testament reflect his words and actions.

I hope you enjoy this extract from Echoes of Jesus: Does the New Testament Reflect What He Said? It is from the fifth chapter titled Jesus the teacher.

If Jesus wasn’t an author, how do we know what he said?

I am sure many have pondered why Jesus didn’t write any of the New Testament books. At first sight it would seem that if Jesus had actually written his teachings down, this would have been more ideal than having the messages written by those who followed him. Some people I have met believe we can’t know with any degree of certainty what Jesus actually taught because he didn’t author any of the New Testament books. Others have gone so far as to say that if Jesus was a charismatic teacher, he would not have given any thought to his teachings being preserved in writing. 

 

Even though Jesus didn’t compose a book of his teachings, he used techniques to make his lessons memorable. He taught using stories and images to help get his meaning across, and these in turn continue to carry the concepts through time and across language barriers. For example, in John 15:5, Jesus said:

 

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit …

 

No matter what time period or culture you come from, most people reading these words will create a mental picture of a vine, and then realise that a vine is nothing but branches continually intertwined and that every branch depends on the vine. They get the message that Jesus expects a close relationship with his followers. They will also understand these words to mean that unless they do have this intimate relationship with Jesus they will not be fruitful. Providing they read the words in context, they will not start believing that the fruit being talked about refers to grapes, oranges or bananas. Jesus’ words in this case create an immediate and vivid understanding, but also leave the reader hungering for more details.

 

When researching this chapter and the next, I wanted to know what evidence there was that Jesus intended his message to be preserved in a very precise way. Did Jesus’ disciples have the ability to read and write? If they did, what evidence was there that they used written language to record Jesus’ teachings? Were they capable of capturing what their master said in an almost word-by-word fashion or did they only have the prowess to capture the essence of his message?

 

Before further discussion of Jesus as a teacher, I will digress to cover a couple of concerns that people have frequently made. These matters relate to translation and interpretation. The first concern is that because translations appear to distort the original meaning, then the accuracy of the original documents is irrelevant. The second issue is whether the recorded words of Jesus’ can be interpreted to mean just about anything. If they can, then there is no value in them.

 

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Did Jesus say 'I am a Muslim'? 

I recently received a request to respond to a pro-Islamic YouTube clip claiming that Jesus said: “I am a Muslim." The clip is by Imran Ibn Mansur. Refer to  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2m_56PZ4Ko&app=desktop, and it seems to be part of a series called Da’wah Man. In the clip Imran is speaking to two young men.

This blog post looks at the first 36 seconds of the clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2m_56PZ4Ko&app=desktop. I have italicised those words spoken or written in the video. In my response, when I quote the Bible it is from the English version called the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

 Imran states that in the clip: 

a) Jesus said I submit my will to the will of the Father… 

Presumably Imran is referring to the words of Jesus recorded in John 5:30, (see below).

 b) A few seconds later, Imran states that the word Muslim means I submit my will to the will of GodA Muslim is someone who submits his or her will to the will of God

Here it is worth noting that a Muslim is someone who follows the religion of Islam, as started but Muhammad who was born in about 570 AD. He started the religion when he was about 40 years old.

 c) Then Imran says that if you were translate that verse in the Bible where Jesus says that I submit my will to the will of the Father, in Arabic, it would say that I am a muslim. Literally that’s what it would say, I am a Muslim. Do you follow me?

 There are a number of ways to respond to this series of statements. Here are four:

 1) Logic in understanding Jesus' words

Jesus said a number of things about himself, such as:

I am the way, the truth and the light, no one comes to the Father but through me. John 14:6 in English and Hebrew

Imagine that someone starts up a new religion in Malaysia in October 2014, and calls their religion Mohajit (Hindi for charming) and it’s followers Jalan. 

This would be a reasonable word to chose for the followers as the word jalan in their national language (Bahasa malaysia) has several meanings, including: a way for travel as in a literal road or a literal path, and can even mean a road or path in a metaphorical sense, such as the path for life.

Given the above scenario, would it be reasonable for one of the Jalan to claim that Jesus was saying that he was a follower of the religion called Mohajit? A religion that started about 2000 years after he spoke the words recorded in John 14:6. Or would it be reasonable to conclude that Jesus expected his followers should start following a religion called Mohajit 2000 years after he was crucified? Of course not. Using the same line of logic, it is not reasonable to conclude that Jesus expected his followers should start following a religion called Islam nearly 600 years after he was crucified simply because they called their followers Muslim. This is especially unreasonable when Islam is so radically different to what Jesus taught.

 2) Consistency in choosing Jesus' words

 In the YouTube video, Imran was building his argument on a verse found in the New Testament part of the Bible. It appears that this verse is from the Gospel of John, chapter 5, verse 30. It is interesting that Imran obviously believes these words to be a true record of what Jesus said, as otherwise he would not be basing his argument on these words.

 As this same book of the Bible records Jesus saying "I am the way, the truth and the light, no one comes to the Father but through me" (John 14:6), and as there is no valid reason based on the preserved ancient copies of the New Testament for accepting John 5: 30 as authentic while at the same time rejecting John 14:6, then Imran should be also saying on his video that all Muslims should start loving and following the words of Jesus as they are recorded in the New Testament. To learn more about how accurately the New Testament has been copied over the centuries before and after Muhammad was born, then read my book Echoes of Jesus: Does the New Testament Reflect What He Said?

 Similarly, as Jesus is recorded in John 11:25 as stating that: 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” then Imran should also be saying in his video clip that all Muslims should start following Jesus if they want to have certainty about being resurrected and going to heaven. This is particularly so as the sacred books of Islam (called the hadith) teach that even Muhammad stated that his good deeds were not enough to get him into Paradise. Here is a quote from one of the hadith:

Narrated Abu huraira: I heard Allah’s apostle [i.e. Muhammad] saying “The good deeds of any person will not make him enter Paradise. (i.e., None can enter Paradise through his good deeds.) They (the Prophet’s companions) said, ‘Not even you, O Allah’s apostle?’ He said, “Not even myself, unless Allah bestows his favor and mercy on me.” Bukhari, Book 7, Vol. 70 Hadith 577; words enclosed in ( ) are in the original hyperlink. 

3) The God of the Bible is different to the God of Islam

 Imran’s argument is based on the idea that the God Jesus referred to is the same as the God of Islam who is called Allah. Although Islam teaches this idea in their most sacred book called the Qur’an (also spelt Quran), it is actually not true. For example, the God of the Bible is recorded as expecting that we should not sin, for example we can read in the New Testament book 1 Peter 1:15-16 that:

 … but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 in English and Urdu

This is very different to Allah, who demands his followers to do sinful acts. This teaching is recorded in the Islamic hadith called Muslim, book 37, Hadith 6622, which states:

'Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) having said: By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if you were not to commit sin, Allah would sweep you out of existence and He would replace (you by) those people who would commit sin and seek forgiveness from Allah, and He would have pardoned them.' Words enclosed in ( ) are in the original hyperlink.      

4) Did Jesus say 'I submit'

I am unable to find any English version of the Bible that records Jesus’ saying that: 'I submit my will to the will of the Father.' The closest words of Jesus I can find are: 

I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 5:30 in English and Spanish

 The next closest I can find is Jesus saying:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 6:38 in English and Arabic

In fact I could not find any verse in the New Testament where it records Jesus speaking the words 'I submit'. I checked the following English translations of the Bible: NASB, NKJV, KJV, NIV, NRSV, RSV, NET, or ESV. Therefore the foundation for Imran’s argument, namely that: Jesus said I submit my will to the will of the Father appears to be non-existent.

The above paragraphs largely deals with the topic of Jesus' relationship with God. But how can we have a relationship with God? Is it possible for us living in Iran or Australia in the 21st century to become God's children?

Here is how Jesus responded when one of his disciples asked how Jesus will make himself known to them in the future:

Jesus answered and said to him 'If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.' John 14:23 in English and Farsi (Persian)

As Jesus is making it clear that we can  share our our house – that is our everyday lives – with God if we obey his teaching, then the next question is; What did he teach? The best way to answer this question is to read the New Testament part of the Bible, where it faithfully records all that Jesus said and did. But for now, here is one of my most favourite sayings from Jesus' lips:

For even the Son of Man [Jesus speaking about himself in the third person] did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45 

It follows that if we ask him to be our ransom, we can be bought back by God; in other words we can be forgiven. That is how I and millions of other people around the world have started their jouney with Jesus.

Regards,

Jon

 

 

 

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