Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Temple and Islamic Theology

The temple in Jerusalem is central to the Bible. The books of Exodus and Leviticus give the theology and rituals that were practiced in the temple. The books of Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra, have the temple as a central theme. The prophets and Psalms make regular reference to the temple. The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians 587 BC. It was rebuilt and it was this temple that Jesus and his apostles visited and spoke about. The Judaism at the time of Jesus and his apostles is called Temple Judaism. This second temple was destroyed AD 70 by the Roman military leader Titus and it has not been rebuilt.

This is important because the destruction of the temple changed Judaism from Temple Judaism to Rabbinic Judaism. The temple had been the centre for Judaism, but with its destruction Judaism had to adjust its practices. Instead of the high priest in the temple being the central figure, now the rabbis in the synagogues were more important. Instead of offering animal sacrifices in the temple, Jews were taught to offer prayers as sacrifice. Instead of going to the temple, synagogues became the focus. The practises of Judaism changed direction with the destruction of the temple. Temple Judaism became Rabbinic Judaism. It is called Rabbinic Judaism because it was the rabbis who developed it. One thing that stayed the same was the direction of prayer; Jews continued to pray towards the temple mount, where the temple had once stood.

Why is this important? It is important because Muhammad was born AD 570, which means there had been no temple and its practices for 500 years. Muhammad did not observe Jews practicing Temple Judaism but Rabbinic Judaism, and this matters because Muhammad copied the actions of the Jews.

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: The Prophet [Muhammad] used to copy the people of the Scriptures [Jews and Christians] in matters in which there was no order from Allah. The people of the Scripture used to let their hair hang down while the pagans used to part their hair. So, the Prophet let his hair hang down first, but later on, he parted it. (Sahih al-Bukhari 5917; vol 7, bk 72, no 799; Sahih Muslim 2336a)

Muhammad copied the Jews in their direction of prayer towards the temple mount.

Narrated Al-Bara: We prayed along with the Prophet facing Jerusalem for sixteen or seventeen months. Then Allah ordered him to turn his face towards the Qibla (in Mecca) (Sahih al-Bukhari 4492; vol 6, bk 60, no 19)

However, Muhammad copied Rabbinic Judaism, not Temple Judaism. This is important because the Holy Spirit showed us important truths through the operation of the temple.

But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. (Hebrews 9:7-8)

We will now consider the doctrines the Holy Spirit taught through the temple.

1. God comes to dwell with us. God’s plan has always been to come and dwell with his people. God dwelt with Adam in the garden (Genesis 3:8). After Moses built the tabernacle God dwelt among the Israelites (Exodus 25:8); and in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8:10-11). We are not on a journey from creation to God. God comes to us. The temple is the place where God and humanity meet. This is what the temple teaches us.

2. We need a priest. When a holy God comes and dwells among a sinful people the situation is not good. God’s anger breaks out in judgement against the people. For this reason God gave the Israelites priests. The priests represented the holy God to the people and the people to God. The priests were mediators.

3. We need a sacrifice of atonement. In order for sinful people to meet a holy God, God required a sacrifice to turn aside his anger and pay for sins. The priests offered these sacrifices on behalf of the people in the temple. This is what the temple teaches us.

4. Direction of prayer. Since the temple was the place where God’s presence dwelt it was the direction of prayer. It was how you faced God.

5. Israel is the priestly nation to the world, Exodus 19:6. This means the temple had a function to all the nations of the world. All the nations were invited to come to the temple and pray, learn about the God, and approach him.

6. The Messiah is the temple builder who brings God and humanity together. God made a covenant with king David. In this covenant God said that a son of David would rule over God’s kingdom, God would be his father, he would be God’s son, and this son would build the temple. This is the covenant of the Messiah.

When your [David] days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Samuel 7:12-14)

Therefore the Messiah is the temple builder who brings God and humanity together. This is why Jesus speaks about building a temple, John 2:12ff.

7. The New Creation is described with temple language. When the prophets describe the New Creation, the resurrection age, the age to come, they use the language of the temple. We see this in Ezekiel 40-48 and Revelation 21-22. The New Creation is described as a temple where God and humanity dwell together perfectly, and humanity perfectly worships God.

These seven points are what the Holy Spirit taught through the temple. This is Temple Judaism, biblical Judaism, the Judaism of the prophets. However, Rabbinic Judaism does not practice these things because there is no temple, and it was Rabbinic Judaism that Muhammad observed and copied. When we read the Qur’an we see Rabbinic Judaism not Temple Judaism.

Temple theology and the Qur’an

When we read the Qur’an with temple theology in mind, what do we notice?

1. In the Qur’an God does not come to creation to dwell with his people. When God created Adam in the Qur’an, Adam was in paradise in heaven, he was not on earth. When the Qur’an speaks about Moses it never mentions the tabernacle and God dwelling with his people. It is the same with Solomon. In the Qur’an we are on a journey to God, God does not come to us. Why did Muhammad say this? Because Muhammad copied the practices of Rabbinic Judaism not Temple Judaism.

God originates creations, then causes it to return. Then you will be returned to him. (Qur’an 30:11)

2. There is no priesthood in Islam. This is something that some Muslims boast about, but it is nothing to boast about. Throughout all of the books of the prophets there are priests. Abraham had the priest Melchizedek, there was the priesthood of Aaron for the Israelites, Israel was the priestly nation, and Jesus is the fulfilment of the priesthood. If you believe that God is holy and people are sinful then the prophets say you need a priest. But there is no priesthood in Islam. Why? Because Muhammad copied the practices of Rabbinic Judaism not Temple Judaism.

3. There is no sacrifice of atonement in Islam. Islam has sacrifices but their purpose is never explained. There is no command to offer a sacrifice of atonement in the Qur’an to bring you into the presence of God. Why? Because Muhammad copied the practices of Rabbinic Judaism not Temple Judaism.

4. In the Qur’an, Israel is not the unique priestly nation God has made to speak to the world and through which the world can come to him. Instead, every nation has their own prophets (Qur’an 16:36).

5. In the Qur’an Jesus is called the Messiah, but there is no understanding of the Messiah as the one who builds the temple and brings God and humanity together.

6. When the Qur’an speaks about paradise and the new creation it does not describe it in terms of a perfected temple and worship (Qur’an 56:1-56). Instead, it is a place of pleasure and reward, where no worship is required.

7. In the Qur’an Abraham builds the Ka’ba in Mecca, but the presence of God does not descend upon it. God does not dwell there. It is empty. There is no reason to pray towards it. The Ka’ba is not a temple.

8. When Muhammad does refer to the temple in Jerusalem, he calls it a mosque (Qur’an 17:7). He shows no understanding of its function as a temple.

9. In the Qur’an, Muhammad tells many stories about Moses, Aaron, and Jesus, but none of them have to do with the temple. In the Qur’an, Moses, Aaron, and Jesus are Rabbinic Jews not Temple Jews. We see this particularly with Aaron. In the Bible, Aaron’s main role is as the priest of Israel. But in the Qur’an, Aaron is only a prophet. It is not just that Jesus is only a prophet, but Aaron is only a prophet too.

These nine points illustrate how Muhammad has learned his theology by copying the practices of Rabbinic Judaism instead of biblical Temple Judaism.

Notice that the Qur’an does not attempt to refute the biblical temple doctrines, like it attempts to refute the Trinity and the Incarnation, it is just unaware of them because Muhammad never saw them. Therefore, the Qur’an is missing many of the main teachings of the prophets. It is missing God coming to dwell with his people. It is missing the priesthood and sacrifice. It is missing the unique place of the nation of Israel. It is missing the role of the Messiah to bring God and humanity together. Hopefully now you can understand why Islam teaches what it does.

Imagine if you wanted to change the Bible into the Qur’an. How would you do it? You would need to rip out of it every reference to the tabernacle/temple, every reference to God coming to dwell with this people, every reference to the priests, every reference to the sacrifices of atonement, every reference to the Messiah and the temple, and every reference to the new creation and the temple. If we did this, what would we be left with? Not much, just a hollow shell. This is what the Qur’an is.


Firstly, to understand Christianity you need to understand biblical Temple Judaism, the Judaism of the prophets.

Secondly, to understand Islam you need to understand the practices of Rabbinic Judaism because Muhammad’s historical context was not biblical Temple Judaism but Rabbinic Judaism.

Thirdly, if you read the Qur’an, you can now understand what you are reading. It is a book with no temple theology.

Fourthly, without an understanding of the temple Muslims do not have the foundation to understand Jesus and the Gospel: Jesus is God coming to dwell with us as God did with the temple. Jesus describes his incarnation in temple terms (John 2:19ff). He is the true temple in which God and humanity perfectly meet. Jesus is the true priest who represents God to the people and the people to God. He is the true sacrifice to turn aside the anger of God. Jesus and the Gospel have their foundation in the teaching of the temple. Teaching the temple to Muslims can be a way of introducing them to the Gospel.

Fifthly, many Muslims have said to me that Islam is similar to Judaism. Islam is similar to Rabbinic Judaism but not biblical Temple Judaism, the Judaism of the prophets.

Finally, learning and teaching about the temple is an example of how you can teach fundamental Christian doctrine to prepare Christians for Islamic teaching.