Folk Islamic Ritual #1: Na’at (Devotional Singing)

This blogpost is the first of a series sharing some of the basic aspects of South Asian folk Muslim rituals. Understanding folk Muslim’s worldview aids in making disciples for Jesus among folk Muslims. Therefore, each reading concludes with tips on how these worldview issues relate to ministry among folk Muslims.

There is great diversity in the belief and practices of folk Muslims in South Asia. Therefore, do not make the mistake that every South Asian Muslim that you meet will do all the practices described in these lessons! Instead, use these lessons as a launching point to explore the worldview and practices of South Asian Muslims that you meet. 

Asaf-ud-dowlah (d. 1797) listening to musicians in his court in what would be present day Uttar Pradesh, India. Used by permission from Wikipedia Commons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Asif_musicians_1812.jpghttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Asif_musicians_1812.jpg

When my wife and I first moved to India, we lived by a mosque where women began singing every morning at 4 am over the mosque loudspeaker. As I began to understand a little Urdu, we were surprised to hear that they were singing songs to Muhammad. This practice is called na’at. Na’at derives from the Barelvi doctrine of hazir-o-nazir that “the Prophet continues to have a spiritual presence of his own manifest as pure light (nur-I muhammadi) and is capable of mediating between Muslims and God.”[1] Many Muslims believe that Muhammad’s spiritual presence, as pure light, is present with Muslims everywhere, much like Christians believe about the Holy Spirit.

The singing of na’at “establish[es] a special relationship to the prophet and invoke[s] his mediatory presence.”[2]At the root of devotional singing is a folk perspective of Allah, Muhammad, and Sufis. Perry Pennington shared a helpful anecdote about how folk Muslims view their devotion to mediators (Urdu vasila). This anecdote was a conversation with his friend, Dervesh.

According to [Dervesh], for every work there is an accompanying vasila (means). For instance, the vasila for reading is eyeglasses; for writing, a pencil, for drinking, a glass. Prayer, he made clear, also requires a vasila. “Which vasila do you use when you pray?” I asked him. Dervesh explained that he prayed in the name (with the vasila of) all the prophets and holy books. Vasilas are required in prayer, Dervesh said, because prayer is talking to God, who is mighty and powerful. He is full of blessing, but his power is so great that direct contact with him is fraught with danger. God, he continued, is like an electricity-generating power plant. It produces such a powerful form of electricity that it is useless for ordinary household items like radios, for its power would destroy them if connected directly to them. Instead, the electricity is taken from the generating plant to an electrical grid… In prayer, Dervesh concluded, God is like the generating station, the prophets like the grid station, and Sufis, like the transformer. They are a conduit for the blessing and power of God that flows from them into their followers in a manageable form.[3]

Some Muslims also sing to Sufi saints. Qawwali is a more popularized and often syncretized form of Islamic musical expression sung by skilled musicians. The Mughal king, Akbar the Great, became a devotee of Kwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti and his dargah in Ajmer after hearing a Qawwali in honor of that Sufi saint.[4] In some contexts, especially related to some Sufi shrines, ecstatic dancing and the use of marijuana[5] to achieve a spiritual state. The goal of devotional singing and dancing is to enter into a deeper relationship with Allah and gain barkat (Urdu for “blessing”).

Proclaiming Jesus as the greatest mediator between God and man is compelling to many folk Muslims (1 Tim 2:5-6). Portraying the mediatorial role of Christ is significant to folk Muslims who are seeking mediators between them and God. The book of Hebrews in particular highlights the mediatorial role of Christ as the new high priest. One particularly powerful verse in evangelism to folk Muslims on this theme is John 14:6, which uses the term vasila in Urdu. “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Urdu mere vasile ke bagher).’”

Click here to go to a second reading on South Asian Folk Muslims. The second lesson is on the veneration of Muslim saints called pirs at tomb complexes called dargahs.


[1], Patrick Eisenlohr, “Na’at: Media Contexts and Transnational Dimensions of a Devotional Practice,” in Islam in South Asia in Practice, ed. by Barbara D. Metcalf. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, 102.

[2] Ibid., 102.

[3] Perry Pennington, “From Prophethood to the Gospel: Talking to Folk Muslims about Jesus,” IJFM 31.4 (2014): 197.

[4] Catherine B. Asher, “Pilgrimage to the Shrines of Ajmer,” in Islam in South Asia in Practice, ed. by Barbara D. Metcalf (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 77.

[5] Green tea should be imbibed with great caution in South Asia. A missionary colleague in India was once given “green tea” by his Muslim friend. Unaware it was marijuana; he drank two glasses. It was quite potent since it took more than twenty-four hours for my friend to come down from his high. 

Systematic Theology 6: The Clarity of Scripture

This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology. The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology with a view towards ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts start with Grudem but are modified. I agree with Grudem’s two presuppositions, “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Each week, one interaction with South Asian Islam will also be noted. Click here for the audio teaching of this lesson.

This lesson is on the second of four characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority, (2) Clarity, (3) Necessity, and (4) Sufficiency. This post is the fifth of seven about the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, is foundational for the development of theology. Therefore, an understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God is our beginning place for theology.

  1. The Word of God. Discussion of five ways that the phrase “Word of God” is used in Scripture. This lesson also discusses three reasons that the Bible as the Word of God is the focus for theological study.
  2. The Canon of Scripture: What belongs in the Bible, and what does not belong? “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54). 
  3. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority. “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of [the Bible][1] are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of [the Bible] is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). 
  4. The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible? “The inerrancy of Scripture means that [the Bible] in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91).  This lesson largely focused on the manuscripts of the Qur’an and the New Testament, showing that the evidence is clear that the New Testament has not changed. However, there is good evidence that the Qur’an has changed.
  5. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity. Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly? “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all [who read it by the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit]”[2] (Grudem, 108). 
  6. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity. For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible? “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral law” (Grudem, 116). 
  7. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency. Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? “The sufficiency of Scripture means that [the Bible] contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, 127). 

The question of the Clarity of Scripture is who can understand the Bible. Throughout church history, this has been a controversial question. For example, the Catholic Church kept the Bible in Latin for hundreds of years so that the average believer could not read it. They believed that only priests could understand Scripture. Therefore, the Bible was kept in a language that only the priests could study and learn it. Unfortunately, this led to a time in church history when even the priests did not understand the Bible well. 

One of the key acts of the Reformation was to translate the Bible into common languages so that the average believer could have access to it. Translating the Bible into common languages usually led to the persecution of the faithful men who undertook these tasks. Consider these two brief stories.

  • In 1534 AD, Martin Luther published his German translation of the Bible from the Greek and Hebrew texts. Luther was famously excommunicated from the Catholic church for his teaching. More than once, Catholic leaders sought to kill Luther for his teaching and for his work in Bible translation.
  • In 1535 AD, William Tyndale translated the full Bible into English for the first time. In 1536 AD, Tyndale was publicly burned to death for translating the Bible. 

Luther and Tyndale published their translations of the Bible at a time when the printing press had recently been developed. As a result, their translations were printed in mass and made available to a much broader audience. For the first time in hundreds of years, the Bible was made available for the ordinary follower of Jesus.

Today, the same issue occurs. Many pastors believe that only people with formal theological education can understand the Bible. The result is that they are slow to put the Bible into the hands of their disciples and encourage them to read it for themselves. Sometimes people are afraid that new believers will misinterpret the Scriptures. Therefore, they tell believers to come and hear their teaching while de-emphasizing their disciples learning directly from God in the Bible.

The doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who read it by the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit. This doctrine has two parts:

  1. God has revealed His Word in a clear way that ordinary people can understand.
  2. God has given His Holy Spirit to each believer so that His Spirit can guide them into all truth (John 16:13).

The Bible is Clear

“The revelation of your words brings light and gives understanding to the simple.” Psalm 119:130 (Psalm 19:7)

The word “simple” here is a reference to a person without insight and understand. It is a reference to an ordinary person without a great deal of education. The testimony of the Bible is that the Bible is specifically designed to give insight to simple people. 

Without a doubt, the most accessible sections of Scripture to understand for new believers are the stories, or the narratives, of Scripture. God, in His wisdom, gave us a Bible that is 43% narrative. The Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – are undoubtedly the most important books of Scripture. God gave them in narrative form. 

According to the Indian census, 59.1% of Muslims in India are literate. Many of these 59.1% are of low literacy, meaning that they can do simple tasks like writing their name but cannot read a book. For those coming to Christ who are illiterate, the stories of Scripture are easily taught. Recordings can be provided of these stories in their heart languages so that the average believer who cannot read and read can still have access to much of Scripture. The Holy Spirit can guide even the illiterate to understand His truth.

While some passages of Scripture are more challenging to understand than others (see 2 Peter 3:16), God has provided His Word in a form that is understandable to most people.

The Holy Spirit Guides Believers to Understand the Bible

Several passages of Scripture show that the Holy Spirit guides believers to understand all truth.

  • “’Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel in those days’ – the LORD’s declaration. ‘I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts.’” Jeremiah 31:33, quoted in Hebrews 8:10
  • “I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statues and carefully observe my ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:27
  • “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” John 14:26
  • “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” John 16:13

In contrast, several passages emphasize that those without the Spirit – or those outside of Christ – cannot understand the Bible correctly.

  • “But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.” 1 Corinthians 2:14
  • “When [Jesus] was alone, those around him with the Twelve, asked him about the parables. He answered them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables so that they may indeed look, and yet not perceive; they may indeed listen, and yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back and be forgiven.’” Mark 4:10-12
  • “Yet still today, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” 2 Corinthians 3:15-16

The defining difference between these two kinds of people is whether they have the Spirit of God living in them. If we have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit will guide us to understand all spiritual truth. If we do not have the Holy Spirit, then we cannot fully understand the Bible.

How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit

If the Holy Spirit’s indwelling power is what determines our ability to understand the Bible, then we need to understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Bill Bright’s booklet, “Are you Experiencing the Spirit-Filled Life,” is one great way to understand these issues. Click here to go to Bright’s booklet (the three diagrams below are from this resource).

Bill Bright defined three kinds of people: (1) those without the Spirit, (2) those filled with the Spirit, and (3) followers of Jesus who neglect the Spirit and live their own lives. The following three diagrams use circles to show a person’s life. Inside the life is a throne, indicating who is the Lord of their life. The cross indicates Christ, and the “S” indicates self.

When a person outside of Christ hears the gospel, they repent and by faith allow Christ to become the Lord of their life. When they repent and believe, God fills them with the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8). When Christ is on the throne of their life, they study the Bible, and the Holy Spirit guides them into all truth.

Unfortunately, all followers of Jesus sin (1 John 1:5-10). When we sin, we essentially remove Christ as the Lord of our lives. We put ourselves back on the throne of our lives. In this state, the Holy Spirit is no longer guiding us and transforming us. Many followers of Jesus live sinful lives, and as a result, they are not filled with the Spirit of God. The Spirit no longer teaches them. For them, understanding the Bible is difficult because God’s Spirit is not leading them.

Those followers of Jesus who live sinful lives also need to repent from their sin and place their faith in Christ again. Perhaps the most crucial aspect of walking by the Spirit is a constant choice to turn away from sin and walk by the Spirit. Any time we turn away from God’s way, we need to repent and follow Him again.

The point is that new believers can walk by the Spirit, turning away from sin, and following God. As they walk by the Spirit and read the Bible, God will guide them into all truth.

Conclusion

The result is that when any person comes to Christ, we need to get the Bible to them. As the Holy Spirit comes into them, the Spirit will teach them the truth of His Word. If we neglect to put the Bible into the hands of new believers, we fail to believe that the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to teach the truth to God’s people. If we lack confidence that new believers can understand the Bible, our lack of confidence is really in the Holy Spirit. We are saying that the Holy Spirit is weak. Often those who de-emphasize the ability of the Holy Spirit to teach new believers overemphasize their own ability to teach the Bible. Consider this, if someone’s confidence in their own ability to teach the Bible is greater than their trust in the Holy Spirit to teach the Bible, this person is undoubtedly guilty of pride.

On the other hand, God has given Bible teachers, pastors, and scholars to the church (see Eph 4:11-13). The purpose of these people is to equip the body of Christ so that believers can directly approach God. Some passages of Scripture and some doctrines are harder to understand. It is beneficial to have godly men and women who can help believers grow in their understanding of the Scriptures. However, these leaders must not fall into the Catholic Church’s trap that persecuted Luther and Tyndale for translating the Bible! Every Christian leader should long for those under their leadership to be like the Bereans who took Paul’s teaching and carefully compared it to the Scriptures (Acts 17:11).

Therefore, as Muslims come to Christ, we must get the Bible into their hands. We must encourage them to read the Bible with prayer. As we do so, we can trust that the Holy Spirit will be their best teacher. As they study the Word, we should continue to disciple and mentor them with the hope that they will become wiser than us as they meditate on the Word of God (Psalm 119:99).

To get updates when new Systematic Theology lessons are posted, please subscribe to the No Cousins Left blog!


[1] In the definitions for the Authority of Scripture, the Inerrancy of Scripture, and the Sufficiency of Scripture, the term “Scripture” has been replaced by “the Bible” as seen in brackets. The reason is that the definitions could have been confusing from a perspective of Muslim-Christian conversation. 

[2] I have modified Grudem’s definition. What is in the brackets was originally “will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” in Grudem.

Systematic Theology 5: The Innerancy of Scripture

This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology . The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology with a view towards ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts start with Grudem but are modified. I agree with Grudem’s two presuppositions, “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Each week, one interaction with South Asian Islam will also be noted. Click here for the audio teaching of this lesson.

This lesson continues a study on the four characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority, (2) Clarity, (3) Necessity, and (4) Sufficiency. This post is the fourth of seven about the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, is foundational for the development of theology. Therefore, an understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God is our beginning place for theology.

  1. The Word of God. Discussion of five ways that the phrase “Word of God” is used in Scripture. This lesson also discusses three reasons that the Bible as the Word of God is the focus for theological study.
  2. The Canon of Scripture: What belongs in the Bible, and what does not belong? “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54). 
  3. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority. “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of [the Bible][1] are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of [the Bible] is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). 
  4. The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible? “The inerrancy of Scripture means that [the Bible] in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). 
  5. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity. Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly? “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem, 108). 
  6. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity. For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible? “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral law” (Grudem, 116). 
  7. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency. Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? “The sufficiency of Scripture means that [the Bible] contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, 127). 


Today’s Systematic Theology study will be in two parts. First, there will be a brief discussion about the inerrancy of Scripture and how this is related to the authority of Scripture. Second, the majority of this lesson will be a comparison of the manuscript evidence of the Qur’an versus the New Testament. Simply put, the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is better than for the Qur’an, however this is often not well known. Manuscripts are ancient copies of books that are still in existence. 

Inerrancy Defined

“The inerrancy of Scripture means that [the Bible] in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). Simply put, the Bible contains no errors in any way. This means that there are no scientific, historical, or other errors contained within God’s Word.

It is significant that Grudem uses the term “original manuscripts” in this definition. The only copy of the Bible that we can say has no errors are the original manuscripts. Unfortunately, we do not have the original manuscripts today. This fact has often led to confusion in Christian-Muslim dialogues since Muslims claim to have an unchanged Qur’an. Today, we will evaluate this claim by Muslims. In the end, we will see that both the Bible and the Qur’an have a history. 

A great book to read on this subject is Keith E. Small’s Holy Books have a History.

The History of the New Testament

The Bible as a book has a long history. It was written by dozens of authors in multiple languages over many hundreds of years. For the sake of simplicity, we will look only at the history of the New Testament. The textual evidence for the New Testament demonstrates that there have been no changes of any significance to the New Testament.

  • The original copies of the New Testament are no longer in existence. These ancient copies were either lost from age or from persecutions where many copies of the Bible were burned. For example, during the Diocletian persecution in 303-313 AD, many ancient copies of the Bible were destroyed by the Roman government.
  • There are about 24,000 ancient copies of the New Testament that are in existence today. You can see scans of many of these documents at www.csntm.org. These scans are freely and publicly available.
  • Many books are available to teach people about the various manuscripts of the New Testament, including detailed lists of where these manuscripts currently are. One excellent book on this subject is Kurt and Barbara Aland’s The Text of the New Testament. https://www.amazon.com/Text-New-Testament-Introduction-Criticism/dp/0802840981
  • You can purchase Greek New Testaments that include a textual apparatus. The textual apparatus shows any places where the manuscript evidence of the New Testament has any potential for disagreement. Here is the most commonly used Greek New Testament: https://www.amazon.com/Holy-Bible-Testament-Greek-english-Dictionary/dp/3438051605/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=na28&qid=1603964828&s=books&sr=1-1
  • Tens of thousands of people have studied these Greek manuscripts in detail and compared them and can testify that these resources are accurate. All of the information about these manuscripts are available for all. 
  • There are many small disagreements between various manuscripts and a whole science called Textual Criticism has emerged about how to compare and use these manuscripts to get to the oldest version of each New Testament text. All of the writings and research of scholars on these issues are published in journals that are readily available.
  • The final judgement of most scholars engaged in textual criticism is that we can be certain that the text of the New Testament that we have is almost identical to the original autographs of Scripture.

The History of the Qur’an

The Qur’an as a book has a long history. Muslims claim that the Qur’an has never changed but the evidence does not support that view. In fact, today, Muslims in different parts of the world use different Arabic texts of the Qur’an. 

  • 1924 Al-Azhar Version of the Qur’an. The Arabic text of the Qur’an that is used by most Muslims today comes from Egypt in 1924. In Egypt, there is a famous madrassa called Al-Azhar. This madrassa is the most highly regarded school for Islamic instruction by many Muslims around the world. Before 1924, there was confusion since many of the teachers at this school were using different Arabic versions of the Qur’an. Therefore, in 1924, they published an authoritative Arabic version. This version was compiled through the recitation of various hafiz[2] rather than on existing manuscripts. Therefore, the most common Arabic Qur’an used today is based on the oral tradition of Muslim scholars from less than a hundred years ago. 
  • How Uthman made an official Qur’an. According the Hadith, here is the story of how the oldest manuscripts of the Qur’an came into being during the reign of the Caliph Uthman (644-656 AD). The story is similar to the 1924 story. Muslims disagreed about which Qur’an was correct. Therefore, a small number of people gathered together and made an official version of the Qur’an and send out copies of this Qur’an to each of the nine Muslim provinces at that time. 

“Narrated Anas bin Malik:

Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to `Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to `Uthman, “O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Qur’an) as Jews and the Christians did before.” So `Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, “Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you.” Hafsa sent it to `Uthman. `Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, `Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, Sa`id bin Al-As and `Abdur Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. `Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, “In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue.” They did so, and when they had written many copies, `Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. `Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.” Sahih al-Bukhari 6.61.650

  • Some famous manuscripts of the Qur’an.
    • Topkapi Manuscript. The Topkapi Manuscript is found in Istanbul, Turkey. It is from the early-to-mid 700s AD. This copy of the Qur’an is almost complete, missing only Qur’an 5:3-8 and 17:17-33. Most Muslims today claim that this manuscript was owned by Uthman, even though it was from many years after his death.
    • Samarkand Manuscript. The Samarkand Manuscript is current in Uzbekistan. It is from the mid-to-late 700s AD. This manuscript is very incomplete and has many pages that have been replaced by newer pages. The oldest parts of this manuscript include portions of Qur’an 2-5, 11, 14-20, 24, 27, and 36-43. The Topkapi manuscript and the Samarkand manuscript contain significant disagreements with one another.
    • Sa’ana Manuscript. The Sanaa manuscript is a palimpsest that contains two old copies of the Qur’an. A palimpsest is a manuscript that has an upper and a lower text. Because writing material was so expensive in ancient times, scribes would clean off the text of manuscripts and write a next text on them. The lower text can now be identified through infrared technology. Therefore, the Sa’ana manuscript has an older (lower) text that is only visible through scanning the document and a new (upper) text that is visible to everyone. It is significant that the upper and lower text of the Sa’ana manuscript contain many disagreements with one another. 
  • Notes on the Qur’anic manuscripts
    • The most ancient manuscripts of the Qur’an are not identical with one another.
    • The 1924 Cairo edition of the Qur’an disagrees substantially with the most ancient manuscripts of the Qur’an. One study by a Turkish Muslim of the Topkapi manuscript identified 20,000 differences between the Topkapi manuscript and the 1924 edition of the Qur’an.[3]

To summarize the textual evidence of the Qur’an

  1. The official Muslim story is that Uthman (644-656 AD) created an official Qur’anic text and had all older copies burned. Most Muslims argue that the Topkapi manuscript is from the time of Uthman. Therefore, most Muslims argue that they currently have the Uthmanic version of the Qur’an. However, why did Uthman need to burn the ancient copies of the Qur’an? Was he trying to hide something? Was the Qur’an he had made the same as the Qur’an Muhammad gave? We can never know since the evidence was destroyed!
  2. The most commonly used version of the Qur’an today is from Cairo in 1924. This version contains about 20,000 differences from the Topkapi manuscript. Therefore, the version of the Qur’an that Muslims use today is different than the ancient manuscripts of the Qur’an that are available. Why don’t Muslims use the oldest copies of the Qur’an today?
  3. Therefore, the Qur’an has changed substantially over time. It is not possible today to know if the modern Qur’an is similar to the Qur’an from the time of Muhammad.
  4. A comparison of the textual history of the New Testament versus the Qur’an actually shows that the New Testament is better attested than the Qur’an. In simple words, there is better evidence that the New Testament has not changed than that the Qur’an has not changed.

To get updates when new Systematic Theology lessons are posted, please subscribe to the No Cousins Left blog!


[1] In the definitions for the Authority of Scripture, the Inerrancy of Scripture, and the Sufficiency of Scripture, the term “Scripture” has been replaced by “the Bible” as seen in brackets. The reason is that the definitions could have been confusing from a perspective of Muslim-Christian conversation. 

[2] Hafiz are individuals who have memorized the Qur’an.

[3] Tayyar Altikulac, Al-Mushaf Al-Sharif. IRCICA, 2007.


Christian Mass Movements in India (1933)

Below, you can download a PDF of J. Waksom Pickett, Christian Mass Movements in India: A Study with Recommendations. New York: The Abingdon Press, 1933.

Photo by NAUSHIL ANSARI on Pexels.com

In December 1928, the National Christian Council of India, Burma, and Ceylon met in Chennai. During this Council, there was significant disagreement about mass movements to Christ in South Asia. Mass movements had been occurring in South Asia for hundreds of years through which thousands or tens of thousands of people were rapidly coming to Christ from a particular caste or tribe. Donald McGavran later called these “people movements.”

Dr. John R. Mott called the council to be cautious about rejecting these movements. Instead, he called for a study of these movements so that proper recommendations could be made. Therefore, in December 1928, the following resolution was unanimously adopted,

The Council considers that as soon as possible a secretary should be appointed to initiate, in close consultation with Provincial Christian Councils, a study of the work in mass-movement areas and asks the executive to prepare proposals regarding the choice of such a secretary and the raising of funds, outside the regular budget of the Council, for his support.” (11)

Based on this resolution, J. Waksom Pickett was selected to study these mass movements and write up his findings. Pickett studied of five of these mass movements and wrote up recommendations. He concluded that these movements were not only from God but that missionaries should learn from these movements and actively seek God to start more similar mass movements. One of the five movements that Pickett studied was the Presbyterian movement in Sialkot, Punjab. This movement was the beginning of where most of the Pakistani Christian community began to come to Christ.

Download this important study here. Since this book is past its copyright and out of print, the PDF can be freely distributed.

Systematic Theology 4: The Authority of Scripture

This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology . The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology with a view towards ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts start with Grudem but are modified. I agree with Grudem’s two presuppositions, “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Each week, one interaction with South Asian Islam will also be noted. Click here for the audio teaching of this lesson .

This lesson begins a study on the four characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority, (2) Clarity, (3) Necessity, and (4) Sufficiency. This post is the third of seven about the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, is foundational for the development of theology. Therefore, an understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God is our beginning place for theology.

  1. The Word of God. Discussion of five ways that the phrase “Word of God” is used in Scripture. This lesson also discusses three reasons that the Bible as the Word of God is the focus for theological study
  2. The Canon of Scripture: What belongs in the Bible, and what does not belong? “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54)
  3. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority. “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of [the Bible][1] are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of [the Bible] is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). 
  4. The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible? “The inerrancy of Scripture means that [the Bible] in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). 
  5. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity. Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly? “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem, 108). 
  6. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity. For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible? “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral law” (Grudem, 116). 
  7. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency. Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? “The sufficiency of Scripture means that [the Bible] contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, 127). 

Grudem defines the authority of Scripture as, “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of the Bible are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of the Bible is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). It is helpful to break down this statement for examination.

All the words of the Bible are God’s Words.” While this statement sounds simple, there are several aspects of this statement deserving examination.

  • The Bible claims to be the Word of God. For a detailed discussion, click here to go to the lesson on the Word of God.  Here are a few examples. 
    • Jesus affirmed the Old Testament as Scripture. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished” (Matt 5:17-18).
    • Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel as Scripture. “For the Scripture says: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain and the worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18). In this verse, Paul quoted Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 as Scripture. Therefore, Paul affirmed Luke’s Gospel as Scripture.
    • Peter affirmed Paul’s letters as Scripture. “Also, regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
    • The book of Revelation concludes with a solemn warning about adding or removing anything from that book. “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, which are written about in this book” (Rev 22:18-19). This solemn warning clearly indicates that Revelation is the Word of God. 
  • The Four Tests of Canonicity provide four proofs that the Bible is the Word of GodClick here to go to the lesson on the Canon of Scripture.
    • (1) The books of the Bible come from authoritative sources, such as prophets and apostles.
    • (2) The books of the Bible all agree with one another. Sixty-six books by dozens of authors over 1,500 years in two languages that all agree with one another testify that God has given these books.
    • (3) The Bible is powerful. The life-changing power of the Bible shows that it is the Word of God. Many people have become convinced that the Bible is the Word of God as they read it and experience its power.
    • (4) The Bible has been received by the Word of God by billions of people throughout history. No other book in human history has been read by so many people in so many languages. 
  • All the words of the Bible are God’s Words.”  It is essential to realize that all the words in the Bible are God’s words. Some people have made a mistake by saying that the Bible “contains” God’s word but is not God’s word. By this, they mean that parts of the Bible are the words of God, and other parts of the Bible are not the words of God.
    • “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16a)
    • “Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). 
  • The Qur’an claims that the Bible is the Word of GodClick here for another article on this topic. We do not hold that the Qur’an is the Word of God. However, for the sake of Muslim ministry, it can be helpful to study the verses of the Qur’an that say that the books of the Bible are the Word of God. Here are two of the most beneficial.
    • And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Torah that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light. And confirmation of the Torah that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.” Qur’an 5:46
    • If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee: the Truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord: so be in no wise off those in doubt.” Qur’an 10:94

To disbelieve or disobey any word of the Bible is to disbelieve or disobey God.” Perhaps the best section of Scripture for this point is Hebrews 3:7-4:13. 

  • Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:7-8a). 
    • Hebrews 3:7b-11 is a quotation from Psalm 95:7-11. This passage in Psalm 95 is about the rebellion during the forty years in the wilderness in Numbers.  
    • The phrase “Today, if you hear his voice” is repeated throughout this section (Heb 3:13, 15; 4:7). In the book of Hebrews, “his voice” means the voice of God in the person of Jesus (see Heb 1:2; 2:1-3). “Today” gives an immediacy to hearing the voice of God. The primary way that we hear the Word of God today is by reading the Bible. Therefore, this command is that as we read the Bible today, we must be careful not to harden our hearts!
  • Hebrews 3:17-18 describes a failure to hear and obey God’s word as disbelief and disobedience to God. “And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” This passage shows the parallel between disbelief and disobedience. Because of their disbelief and disobedience, the people of God faced the judgment of God.
  • So I swore in my anger, ‘They will not enter my rest’” (Heb 3:11). The result of the disobedience/disbelief of God’s people was that God would not permit them to enter into His rest. The rest of God is mentioned throughout this passage (Heb 3:11, 18; 4:1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11). There are two meanings of “rest” in Hebrews 3:7-4:13
    • Rest as entry into the Promised Land (Heb 3:7). 
    • Rest as entry into heaven. Hebrews 3:8-9 clarifies that there is a “rest” better than the one given through Joshua. The rest given through Joshua is a reference to the Promised Land.
  • Therefore, this passage means that if anyone hears God’s Word through Jesus that they have a choice to hear and obey or hear and disbelieve/disobey. If someone hears and obeys, then they will enter into God’s promised rest of heaven. If someone hears and disbelieves/disobeys, then they will fall short of entering into heaven.
  • The final two verses bring this passage back to a focus on Scripture. “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Heb 4:12-13). 

In summary, when we read the Bible, we hear the voice of God. Every word of the Bible is the word of God spoken to us. When we hear God’s voice in Scripture, we have a choice to hear and believe/obey or to hear and disbelieve/disobey. “Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience” (Heb 4:11).

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[1] In the definitions for the Authority of Scripture, the Inerrancy of Scripture, and the Sufficiency of Scripture, the term “Scripture” has been replaced by “the Bible” as seen in brackets. The reason is that the definitions could have been confusing from a perspective of Muslim-Christian conversation. 


The Qur’an Testifies that the Bible is the Word of God

Today, many Muslim leaders argue that the Bible is not the Word of God. However, this argument is not from the Qur’an or the Hadith. The idea that the Bible is not the Word of God is a later innovation (Arabic bid’ah) of Muslim leaders.[1] Since many Muslim leaders have passed down this “innovation,” many ordinary Muslims have come to believe this idea. 

Before moving forward, we need to become slightly more technical in our language. The Qur’an never mentions the “Bible,” instead the Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel are written about in the Qur’an. 

  1. The Taurat is the Law of Moses, which is a reference to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
  2. The Zabur is the Psalms of David.
  3. The Injeel is the Gospel of Jesus. The Qur’an is not clear about what books are in the Injeel.

There is not a single verse in the Qur’an or the Hadith that states that the Taurat, Zabur,  or Injeel changed. In contrast, dozens and dozens of verses affirm these books as being true books from God. 

Below are a few passages from the Qur’an that testify that the Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel are the Word of God. Before looking at these passages, please allow me to provide a word of wisdom. Followers of Jesus find truth in the Bible rather than the Qur’an. In this article, I will show that the Qur’an also shows that the Bible is true. However, the fact that the Qur’an testifies that the Bible is true has no meaning for me, since I do not believe that the Qur’an is a reliable witness. Moreover, I try not to use the Qur’an when sharing the gospel with Muslims. Instead, I use the Bible! Therefore, what is the value of this post? Truthfully, very little. The only way that I use these passages in the Qur’an is when I need to try to shake a Muslim friend to show them that they should read the Bible for themselves. When I do so, I try to be honest that I do not personally believe the Qur’an and do not personally give any weight to these verses.

But why do they come to thee for decision, when they have (their own) Torah before them? – Therein is the (plain) Command of Allah; yet even after that, they would turn away. For they are not (really) People of Faith. It was We who revealed the Torah (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the Prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to Allah’s Will, by the Rabbis and the Doctors of Law: for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s Book, and there were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not me, but fear Me, and sell not My Signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are Unbelievers.” Qur’an 5:43-44[2]

These two verses share several things about the Torah/Taurat:

  • The Torah is the command of God.  “Therein is the (plain) Command of Allah.”
  • God revealed the Torah to Moses. “It was We who revealed the Torah (to Moses).
  • The Torah contains guidance and light for our spiritual lives. “therein was guidance and light.
  • God judged the Jewish people based on the Torah. “By its standard have been judged the Jews.
  • If someone fails to adhere to God’s truth as revealed in the Torah, they are an unbeliever. “If any do fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are Unbelievers.

And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Torah that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light. And confirmation of the Torah that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. Let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are those who rebel.” Qur’an 5:46-47

Here are a few things that these two verses say about the Gospel/Injeel:

  • God sent Jesus, the son of Mary. “We sent Jesus the son of Mary.
  • Jesus came in the footsteps of Moses and the Prophets. “And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary.
  • The Injeel confirms the Taurat, meaning that these two books agree with one another. “confirming the Torah that had come before him… And confirmation of the Torah that had come before him.” Today, both the Taurat and Injeel are in the Bible together since these books agree with one another. 
  • God gave the Injeel. “We sent him the Gospel.
  • The Injeel contains guidance and light for our spiritual lives. “therein was guidance and light.
  • The Injeel admonishes us how to follow God. “a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.
  • Followers of Jesus are commanded to judge right and wrong based on the Injeel. “Let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein.” The Qur’an tells Christians to judge truth and error based on their study of the Injeel! 
  • If anyone fails to judge by the Injeel (i.e., live by the Injeel), they are in rebellion against God. “If any do fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are those who rebel.”

If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee: the Truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord: so be in no wise off those in doubt.” Qur’an 10:94

Qur’an 5:43-47 clearly stated that the Taurat and Injeel are books from God that contain guidance and light for our spiritual lives. The Qur’an claims that the Taurat and the Injeel agree with one another. The Injeel confirms the Taurat.

Qur’an 10:94 makes a similar claim, stating that if hearers of the Qur’an have any doubt that they should consult those “who have been reading the Book from before thee.” The Book in reference is clearly the Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel (i.e., the Bible). In other words, the Qur’an says that if anyone has questions about whether the Qur’an is valid, they should check the Qur’an against the Bible to make sure that the Qur’an is true. Therefore, Qur’an 10:94 bases the truth of the Qur’an on the validity of the Bible.

The great irony of Qur’an 10:94 is that the Qur’an and the Bible are widely understood not to be in unity. Therefore, the Qur’an fails its own test. Simply put, the Qur’an is self-defeating by tests of logic. Here are the logical syllogisms based on Qur’anic statements. 

The Taurat and Injeel are true books from God (Qur’an 5:43-47).

If the Qur’an is true, then the Taurat and Injeel prove that it is true (Qur’an 10:94).

Therefore (logically), if the Qur’an is true, then it must agree with the Taurat and Injeel.

The Qur’an does not agree with the Taurat and the Injeel.

Therefore, the Qur’an is not true.


[1] In most schools of Islam, bid’ah (i.e., innovation) is considered wrong. Instead, Muslims are expected to understand and obey the Qur’an and Hadith.

[2] All Qur’anic references are from the English Translation of Abdullah Yusuf Ali.

When does a Muslim Become an MBB?

Recently, a missionary colleague and I were discussing the question of when a Muslim becomes a Muslim-background believer (MBB). Before addressing this question directly, let me take a few minutes to describe two paradigms for approaching discipleship.

In 1973, Paul Hiebert wrote an article called “The Category ‘Christian’ in the Missionary Task.” In that article, Hiebert described two ways that people often define what it means to be a follower of Jesus in missions.

  1. Bounded Sets. Bounded sets are “either/or” sets. Either someone is a follower of Jesus or is not a follower of Jesus. There are only two options. There is no “gray zone” on this issue according to the bounded set view. As way of analogy, Hiebert talks about apples. Either a piece of fruit is an apple or is not an apple. A banana or orange is not 50% apple. Instead, an orange is 0% apple!
  2. Centered Sets. Bounded sets focus on process and see a great amount of gray zone. In the centered set view, following Jesus is at least a little fuzzy. Besides Jesus, no one has ever been the ideal disciple. Everyone is in process of becoming more and more like Jesus. In this view, if someone is 25% a follower of Jesus, the goal is to move them to 30 or 35% as they move towards the ideal.

There are strengths and weaknesses of both the bounded and centered set views. Here are a few of them.

  • Strength of Bounded Set Approach. On the day of judgement, people will be either in the kingdom or outside the kingdom. In Jesus’ words, they will either been sheep or goats (Matt 25:31ff). Therefore, it is important to define some sets of boundaries into which we are seeking to bring disciples.
  • Weakness of Bounded Set Approach #1. On the other hand, bounded sets often become difficult in missions. Consider an illiterate Muslim farmer who hears the gospel for the first time in South Asia. He repents and believes, saying that he wants to learn how to follow Jesus. But he does not have everything figured out in his faith, either in belief or practice. If we have a strict bounded set view, we would certainly saw that this man is outside. A bounded-set practitioner would see this man an evangelistic target and continue sharing the gospel with him. A centered-set practitioner would see this as a discipleship opportunity and would begin moving him towards Christ.
  • Weakness of Bounded Set Approach #2. A problem with bounded sets is that we need to define what is in and outside the bounded set. Through discussion and study, these restrictions become tighter and tighter. For example, consider the following questions:
    • What beliefs are necessary for a person to be a true MBB?
    • What practices are necessary for a person to be a true MBB?
    • What sins automatically put someone outside of being a true MBB?
    • Which biblical doctrines does a Muslim need to be able to understand and believe to enter the kingdom of God? The hypostatic union of Christ? The Trinity? The penal substitutionary atonement of Christ? These are core doctrines, yet often require time and discipleship to fully understand.
    • The weakness of this approach is that we can make the boundaries so high and detailed that it is virtually impossible for anyone to come to faith!
  • Strength of Centered Set Approach. In this paradigm, everyone is seen as being in process. The goal of this process is to continue to move them towards the center, which is the Lord Jesus. Everyone has a next step to take rather than the question merely being of whether someone is “in” or “out.” In fact, one major issue in modern evangelicalism is the bounded set view that anyone who has prayed the sinner’s prayer is “in.” The centered set does not get caught up in that debate but instead focuses on helping each believer to progress in Christ. As a result, most that use centered set approaches focus on developing processes to help individuals move from one place to the next.
  • Weakness of Centered Set Approach. One failure of centered set approaches is a tendency to overemphasize the fuzziness of discipleship. Some in centered sets are fine with people remaining in gray area in their faith since discipleship is seen as fuzzy. For example, a Muslim may follow Jesus while also perpetually following Muhammad.

In the centered set approach, movement towards the center naturally creates the desired boundaries. Hiebert wrote, “While the centred set does not place the primary focus on the boundary, there is a clear division between things moving in and those moving out. There is an excluded middle. An object either belongs to the set or it does not. However, the set focuses upon the centre and the boundary emerges when the centre and the relationships or movements of the objects have been defined. When the centre and relationships to the centre are stressed the boundary automatically falls into place.”

With this description of bounded versus centered sets, let us return to the question, “When does a Muslim become an MBB?” I personally lean towards a modified centered set practice. Our goal is to share the gospel with Muslims. When a Muslim chooses to repent and believe, declaring a desire to follow Jesus, then I call them an MBB, even if their theology and practice is not fully worked out. This perspective has been very helpful for us since many Muslims are ready to begin on the journey to follow Jesus but are in process. In an upcoming blog post, I will share a paradigm about the process I usually use to help Muslims and MBBs move towards Christ.

From a bounded-set perspective, we tend to give baptism when an MBB takes the more concrete steps of separating from the mosque, Qur’an, and Muhammad. At this point, we expect them to confess that Jesus is fully God.

In this way, we begin discipleship where a new believer is but we have a “bounded set” that we expect as they follow Jesus in baptism.

For additional reading.

  • Phil Parshall, Beyond the Mosque: Christians within Muslim Community. Grand Rapids: Baker House, 1985.
  • David Greenlee, ed., Longing for Community: Church, Ummah, or Somewhere in Between? Hyderabad: Authentic Media, 2013.

Systematic Theology 3: The Canon of Scripture

This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology. The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology with a view towards ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts start with Grudem but are modified. I agree with Grudem’s two presuppositions, “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Each week, one interaction with South Asian Islam will also be noted. Click here for the audio teaching of this lesson.

“The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54). The term canon means “rule” or “authority.” Therefore, the canon of Scripture describes the books of the Bible as the final rule for our lives. The question of canonicity is “What belongs in the Bible and what does not belong?” (Grudem, 54)

In ministry to South Asian Muslims, the term canon sounds similar to the Urdu word kanun. This word is commonly used to describe the law (Urdu kanun) of Moses. Both the English term canon and the Urdu kanunderived initially from the Semitic term kanun

  • Urdu. The term kanun came from Arabic to Urdu. 
  • English. The term kanun is a Greek word that occurs in the New Testament (Gal 6:16). It is most likely that this word came to Greek from a Semitic language from before Arabic. Latin derived the word canonfrom the Greek kanun. English then took the word canon from Latin. 

This lesson will discuss five historical tests of canonicity. These are five tests that help us to logically and clearly determine what should and should not be in the Bible. These five tests will then be applied to The Old Testament, The New Testament, the Apocrypha, and the Qur’an. 

Four Tests of Canonicity

  1. Is it from an Authoritative Source? The origin of Scripture is God. Therefore, the source of any book of Scripture must be an apostle or prophet or some authoritative source. 
    1. “Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21
    1. “All Scripture is inspired by God…” 2 Timothy 3:16a
  2. Does it agree with Other Scripture? God does not change. Therefore, any new book from God must agree or coalesce with previous books from God. If a new book claiming to be Scripture disagrees with previously received Scripture, then the new book must be rejected as Scripture.
    1. “Because I, the LORD have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.” Malachi 3:6
    1. “God is not a man, that He might lie, or a son of man, that He might change His mind. Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?” Numbers 23:19
  3. Is it Powerful? When we read Scripture, it produces a change in our lives. The Word of God is powerful! If a book lacks spiritual power, then it is not Scripture. The power test is very subjective and cannot be used to overrule the other tests.
    1. “Blessed is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3
  4. Was it Received as Scripture? Regarding books from the Old Testament, was it received by the Jewish people and early followers of Jesus? Regarding books from the New Testament, was it received by early followers of Jesus? Regarding any other books, have they been received by followers of Jesus as Scripture? Why or why not?

The Canonicity of the Old Testament. “The collection of absolutely authoritative words from God grew in size throughout the time of Israel’s history” (Grudem, 55). In general, the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament relate to our four tests as follows:

  1. Authoritative Source? Genesis to Deuteronomy are from Moses (Deut 31:24-26). Joshua is from Joshua (Josh 24:26). Jeremiah wrote his own book (Jer 30:2). While there are some books that we do not know the authorship of in the Old Testament, most were written by prophets.
  2. Agree with Other Scripture? Yes, the thirty-nine Old Testament books agree with one another despite being written by dozens of authors over a thousand years! 
  3. Powerful? Psalm 19:7-8 is a testimony to the power of the Old Testament:
    1. The instruction of the LORD is perfect, renewing one’s life; the testimony of the LORD is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise. The precepts of the LORD are right, making the heart glad; the command of the LORD is radiant, making the eyes light up.” Psalm 19:7-8
  4. Received? The Jewish people accepted the Old Testament as Scripture during the time of Jesus. Even more important, Jesus received the Old Testament as Scripture in Matthew 5:17-18. Since Jesus received the Old Testament as Scripture, followers of Jesus have not doubted the Old Testament. Followers of Jesus can confidently say that the Old Testament is true since Jesus said it was. 
    1. “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18

The Canonicity of the Apocrypha. In contrast, the Apocrypha do not pass the four tests of canonicity. The Apocrypha are books from between 400 BC and the birth of Jesus. These books contain useful historical information but are not Scripture. They are not considered Scripture because they fail the first and fourth tests of canonicity.

  • Authoritative Source? Books in the Apocrypha clearly state that a prophet did not produce them. For example, 1 Maccabees 1:46 clearly states that there was no prophet alive at the time of the book’s writing. In fact, none of the Apocrypha claim an authoritative source. Therefore, the Apocrypha is not Scripture.
  • Received? The Catholic church did not officially adopt the Apocrypha as Scripture until 1546 at the Council of Trent. Before that time, no one believed that these books were Scripture. Since they were not received as Scripture until 1,500 years later, they should not be accepted as Scripture today.[1]

The Canonicity of the Gospels

  • Authoritative Source? Each of the four Gospels is attached to an Apostle. Matthew and John were from the Twelve. Mark wrote his Gospel in cooperation with Peter. Luke wrote his Gospel with Paul.
  • Agree with Other Scripture? One of the great strengths of the four Gospels is their agreement with one another. These four Gospels stand as four witnesses that point to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. The way we should think about these four Gospels is as four witnesses in a court that all agree with one another. In court, the more witnesses that agree on a point, the stronger the case. So it is with the four Gospels.
  • Powerful? When we read the Gospels, we experience Jesus’ life in a powerful and transforming way.
  • Received? From the beginning of the church, all have agreed that all four Gospels are Scripture.

The Canonicity of Acts

  • Authoritative Source? Acts is a companion book of the Gospel of Luke. The same authority that was on the Gospel of Luke is in Acts. 
  • Agree with Other Scripture? Acts continues the story of Luke after Christ’s ascension and shows how He continued to work through His people. There is a great agreement with the Gospels.
  • Powerful? Acts is a strong challenge to followers of Jesus about how to follow Him! It is a picture of Jesus acting in and through His people.
  • Received? From the beginning of the church, there has been agreement about the inclusion of Acts in the canon.

The Canonicity of the Pauline Epistles

  • Authoritative Source? Paul, the apostle, wrote these books. Thus, they are from an authoritative source.
  • Agree with Other Scripture? Yes, Paul’s letters agree with the other books of Scripture.
  • Powerful? Paul’s letters are especially powerful in providing doctrine and meaning to the life and work of Christ. Throughout history, a study of Paul’s letters have led to many transformed lives.
  • Received? Almost all of Paull’s letters were accepted from the beginning without any question. Some early church fathers questioned 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. But early, all of Paul’s letters were received. 2 Peter 3:15-16 calls Paul’s Letters Scripture. Therefore, even the apostle Peter received his letters as Scripture.
    • “Also, regard the patience of the Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:15-16

The same four tests can be applied to the rest of the New Testament as well. It is clear that all of the New Testament books have passed these tests and are, therefore, received as Scripture. The twenty-seven books of the New Testament are Scripture. 

 Now, let us consider the same questions regarding the canonicity of the Qur’an.

The Canonicity of the Qur’an?

  • Authoritative Source? The Qur’an claims a divine source. The Qur’an claims to have given by the angel Gabriel to Muhammad. However, followers of Jesus have never received Muhammad as a legitimate prophet.
  • Agree with Other Scripture? The Qur’an claims to have an agreement with the former books while having different teaching. Several verses of the Qur’an say that the Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel[2] are from God (Qur’an 5:46; 5:71; 7:156-157; 10:94). However, the Qur’an has certain verses that disagree with the Bible (Qur’an 4:157; 5:116). Therefore, the Qur’an not only disagrees with other Scripture, but it is also self-defeating.[3]
  • Powerful? Many Muslims claim that the Qur’an is a powerful book. In my personal reading of the Qur’an, I have never experienced it as a powerful book.
  • Received? Followers of Jesus have never accepted the Qur’an as Scripture.

The Qur’an, therefore, fails the tests of canonicity. Thus, the Qur’an has not and should not be received as Scripture. The reason is that no book should be accepted as Scripture that disagrees with other Scripture. God does not change.

This post is the second of seven about the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, is foundational for the development of theology. Therefore, an understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God is our beginning place for theology.

  1. The Word of God: Five ways that the phrase “Word of God” is used in Scripture. Also, this lesson discusses three reasons that the Bible as the Word of God is the focus of theological study.
  2. The Canon of Scripture: What belongs in the Bible, and what does not belong? “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54). 
  3. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority. How do we know that the Bible is God’s Word? “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). To be posted on 28-September-2020.
  4. The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible? “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). To be posted on 5-October-2020.
  5. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity. Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly? “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem, 108). To be posted on 12-October-2020.
  6. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity. For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible? “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral law” (Grudem, 116). To be posted on 19-October-2020.
  7. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency. Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, 127). To be posted on 26-October-2020.

[1] See Grudem 56-59 for significantly more historical information on the lack of reception of these books.

[2] Taurat, Zabur, and Injeel are Arabic terms that are used in the Qur’an to refer to biblical books. Most Muslims understand these terms. The Taurat is the Torah of Moses, meaning Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Zabur is the Psalms of David. The Injeel is the Gospel of Jesus, which probably was a reference to the New Testament. There is some confusion between Muslims and followers of Jesus regarding these terms because whoever wrote the Qur’an did not have significant knowledge about the Bible. 

[3] The Qur’an is self-defeating in this way. The Qur’an makes two contradictory claims: (1) the Injeel is true and (2) the Qur’an disagrees with the Injeel. The second statement means that Muslims must believe that either the Qur’an or Injeel is true. However, the Qur’an testifies that the Qur’an is true. Since the Qur’an testifies that the Injeel is both true and false, the Qur’an is self-defeating. Instead of accepting this evident fact, Muslims instead choose a third path. They claim that the Injeel was true but has become corrupted. Therefore, Muslims argue that the verses of the Qur’an that disagree with the Injeel are true and that the corresponding verses in the Injeel have been corrupted. In the study on the Inerrancy of Scripture, it will become clear from the manuscript evidence that it is impossible that the New Testament (Injeel) has changed in the way that Muslims claim. Therefore, the Qur’an is self-defeating.


 [ED1]Link to a table of contents

 [ED2]YouTube.

 [ED3]link

Rituals of Folk Muslims in South Asia: Na’at

Our Engaging South Asian Muslims E-Course recently went live. This course is a great opportunity to learn about the worldview of the Muslims of South Asia and how to bring the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to them. This reading is an example of one of the readings from this E-Course. Each the twelve lessons has one short reading, like this, about a particular ritual or practice of South Asian folk Muslims. Click here for more information about the Engaging South Asian Muslims E-Course. To join the course, email us at noccousinsleft@protonmail.com.

Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Shareef, Sindh, Pakistan. Used by permission by Fassifarooq. See https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shrine_Lal_Shahbaz_Qalandar,_Sehwan_Shareef,_Sindh,_Pakistan.jpg

These readings describe the worldview of South Asian folk Muslims by looking at their rituals. Understanding folk Muslim’s worldview aids in making disciples of folk Muslims. Therefore, each reading concludes with tips on how these worldview issues relate to ministry among folk Muslims.

 There is great diversity in the belief and practices of folk Muslims in South Asia. Therefore, do not make the mistake that every South Asian Muslim that you meet will do all the practices described in these lessons! Instead, use these lessons as a launching point to explore the worldview and practices of South Asian Muslims that you meet. 

When my wife and I first moved to South Asia, we lived by a mosque where women began singing every morning at 4 am over the mosque loudspeaker. As I began to understand a little Urdu, we were surprised to hear that they were singing songs to Muhammad. This practice is called na’at. Na’at derives from the Barelvi doctrine of hazir-o-nazir that “the Prophet continues to have a spiritual presence of his own manifest as pure light (nur-I muhammadi) and is capable of mediating between Muslims and God.”[1] Many Muslims believe that Muhammad’s spiritual presence, as pure light, is present with Muslims everywhere, much like Christians believe about the Holy Spirit.

The singing of na’at “establish[es] a special relationship to the prophet and invoke[s] his mediatory presence.”[2] At the root of devotional singing is a folk perspective of Allah, Muhammad, and Sufis. Perry Pennington shared a helpful anecdote about how folk Muslims view their devotion to mediators (Urdu vasila). This anecdote was a conversation with his friend, Dervesh.

According to [Dervesh], for every work there is an accompanying vasila (means). For instance, the vasila for reading is eyeglasses; for writing, a pencil, for drinking, a glass. Prayer, he made clear, also requires a vasila. “Which vasila do you use when you pray?” I asked him. Dervesh explained that he prayed in the name (with the vasila of) all the prophets and holy books. Vasilas are required in prayer, Dervesh said, because prayer is talking to God, who is mighty and powerful. He is full of blessing, but his power is so great that direct contact with him is fraught with danger. God, he continued, is like an electricity-generating power plant. It produces such a powerful form of electricity that it is useless for ordinary household items like radios, for its power would destroy them if connected directly to them. Instead, the electricity is taken from the generating plant to an electrical grid… In prayer, Dervesh concluded, God is like the generating station, the prophets like the grid station, and Sufis, like the transformer. They are a conduit for the blessing and power of God that flows from them into their followers in a manageable form.[3]

Some Muslims also sing to Sufi saints. Qawwali is a more popularized and often syncretized form of Islamic musical expression sung by skilled musicians. The Mughal king, Akbar the Great, became a devotee of Kwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti and his dargah in Ajmer after hearing a Qawwali in honor of that Sufi saint.[4] In some contexts, especially related to some Sufi shrines, ecstatic dancing and the use of marijuana[5] to achieve a spiritual state. The goal of devotional singing and dancing is to enter into a deeper relationship with Allah and gain barkat (Urdu for “blessing”).

Proclaiming Jesus as the greatest mediator between God and man is compelling to folk Muslims (1 Tim 2:5-6). Portraying the mediatorial role of Christ is significant to folk Muslims who are seeking mediators between them and God. The book of Hebrews highlights the mediatorial role of Christ as the new high priest. One particularly powerful verse in evangelism to folk Muslims on this theme is John 14:6, which uses the term vasila in Urdu. “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Urdu mere vasile ke bagher).’” There is one caution in using this verse with South Asian folk Muslims. Many Muslims misunderstand the term “Father” in this verse since this is not a term used in Islam for God. This misunderstanding is addressed in a future lesson on presenting Jesus as the Son of God.


[1], Patrick Eisenlohr, “Na’at: Media Contexts and Transnational Dimensions of a Devotional Practice,” in Islam in South Asia in Practice, ed. by Barbara D. Metcalf. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, 102.

[2] Ibid., 102.

[3] Perry Pennington, “From Prophethood to the Gospel: Talking to Folk Muslims about Jesus,” IJFM 31.4 (2014): 197.

[4] Catherine B. Asher, “Pilgrimage to the Shrines of Ajmer,” in Islam in South Asia in Practice, ed. by Barbara D. Metcalf (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 77.

[5] Green tea should be imbibed with great caution in South Asia. A missionary colleague in India was once given “green tea” by his Muslim friend. Unaware it was marijuana; he drank two glasses. It was quite potent since it took more than twenty-four hours for my friend to come down from his high.