Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Does the Quran Misrepresent Christian Beliefs? Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

Muslim apologist Paul Bilal Williams has posted a reply to noted Christian scholar Alister McGrath’s critique of the Quran’s view of Christian theology which is found in his book titled Heresy.

Williams complains about McGrath’s complaints concerning the Quran’s misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation of two essential Christian doctrines:

McGrath complains that the Quran misrepresents two key Christian beliefs: the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the divinity of Christ.

He writes,

‘Most Christians find that the Quranic representation of these concepts bears little relation to their orthodox statements… The problematic Quranic representation of Christianity can be argued to reflect knowledge, whether direct or indirect, of heretical versions of Christianity that are known to have been present in this region. As we have insisted throughout this work, heresies must be considered to arise within the church, and hence can be regarded as “Christian,” even though in a weak sense of the term. Nevertheless, they cannot be regarded as authentically Christian. The Quran thus critiques ideas that lie on the fringe of the Christian faith – and that virtually all Christians would also agree to be defective.’ pp 224-225 Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth

McGrath believes the Quran represents Christians as worshiping a trinity made up of God, Jesus, and Mary, and that the Quranic polemic is really directed at the so-called Collyridian sect which treated Mary as a goddess. Collyridianism was an obscure Early Christian heretical movement whose adherents apparently worshipped the Virgin Mary. The main source of information about them comes from their strongest opponent, Epiphanius of Salamis, who wrote about them in 375 AD. However, there is no evidence that Collyridianism still existed in the Prophet Muhammad’s time (the 6th and 7th centuries AD)

McGrath further complains that the Islamic characterisation of the Trinity “simply cannot be sustained by any comparison with orthodox Christianity.” p. 225.

Furthermore, McGrath rejects the Quranic view of Jesus of Nazareth because he claims it reflects ‘heretical christologies’ that were allegedly popular in the Arabian peninsula and not the ‘orthodox’ view he himself holds.

Williams goes on to say that,

As a former Christian who enthusiastically subscribed to all the orthodox beliefs concerning Jesus and the Trinity (as enshrined in the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon) I am nevertheless impressed by the precision and deftness by which the Quran demythologizes these ‘orthodox’ doctrines. McGrath does not appreciate the Quranic modus operandi by which it polemically unveils Christianity’s metaphysical errors. He expects it to be a compendium of Christian theology. It is not. The Quranic purpose lies elsewhere in refuting error and reasserting the truth about God and His prophets which Christianity (by which I mean the theologies of the historic Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches, not obscure 7th century heresies) has distorted.

In this series of rebuttals we will demonstrate that, contrary to William’s claims, McGrath is right since the Quran does not accurately represent or condemn the historic Christian view of the Trinity and the Person of Christ. After we are done, it will be evident that the Quran’s alleged precision only exists in Williams’ mind since his assertions do not reflect the historical reality and context of the Quran’s critique of historic Christian beliefs.

With that said we now move on to our rebuttal by first addressing William’s claims concerning the Gospels of Mark and John. 


But our earliest surviving gospel, that of Mark, portrays a very human figure who prays to God; who does not know vital information because it has not been revealed to him (the date of the End); and who even denies that he is “good” (Mark 10).  Moreover, in the Gospel of John there is a saying of Jesus which is remarkably similar to Jesus’ words in the Quran.

Quran: The Messiah himself said, ‘Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord.

Gospel of John: Jesus said to her…“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

In both passages Jesus has a God. Therefore he cannot logically be God (as God is One God).


To begin with, Jesus’ statements in John 20:17 prove that the God he came to reveal is not Muhammad’s god. The God revealed in Christ is the Father of Christ, and of all who believe in God’s Son:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13

He is the God who glorifies his Son in the same way that the Son glorifies him, and who demands everyone to honor his Son in the same way that they honor him:

“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son EVEN AS they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” John 5:22-23

“Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately.’” John 13:31-32

“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify YOUR SON, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.” John 17:1-2

Muhammad’s deity, however, is a father to no one, and definitely not Jesus’ father:

The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the son of Allah,’ and the Christians say, ‘Christ is the son of Allah.’ That is an opinion that they mouth, imitating the opinions of the faithless of former times. May Allah assail them, where do they stray?! S. 9:30 Ali Quli Qara’i

And according to Muhammad, the highest relation one can have with the Islamic god is a slave to master relationship:

And they say, "The Most Merciful has taken [for Himself] a son." The heavens almost rupture therefrom and the earth splits open and the mountains collapse in devastation That they attribute to the Most Merciful a son. And it is not appropriate for the Most Merciful that He should take a son. There is no one in the heavens and earth but that he comes to the Most Merciful as a servant. S. 19:88-93 Sahih International

This is a relationship which Jesus says isn’t good enough, since one must become a son that has been set freed by the Son in order to have a permanent place in God’s house:

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’” John 8:34-36

“‘Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I AM THE WAY, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’” John 14:1-6

Moreover, Jesus’ statement in John 17:2 that the Father has given him authority over all flesh causes more problems for Williams since this indicates that Jesus has authority over Muhammad. In fact, Jesus says that everything that the Father owns belongs to him:

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” John 16:12-15

“I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.” John 17:9-10

Since all of creation belongs to God this means that Jesus owns the entire creation. And since Muhammad and his followers were/are flesh and blood creatures, this indicates that Jesus owns them all as well. 

Now lest Williams tries to discredit John’s witness by claiming that this is a later, more christologically developed perspective than that which Christ or Mark held, here is a passage from Mark’s Gospel which basically says the same thing:

“And He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and put a wall around it, and dug a vat under the wine press and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. They took him, and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some and killing others. He had one more to send, A BELOVED SON; he sent him last of all to them, saying, ‘They will respect MY SON.’ But those vine-growers said to one another, ‘THIS IS THE HEIR; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!’ They took him, and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others.” Mark 12:1-9

In the above parable, Jesus claims to be God’s beloved Son and Heir in contrast to the prophets who were merely God’s servants (cf. Jeremiah 7:25; 26:5; 29:19; 44:4). The book of Hebrews makes the same proclamation:

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed HEIR OF ALL THINGS, and THROUGH WHOM also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things BY HIS POWERFUL WORD. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven… He [the Father] also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord [the Son], YOU laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work OF YOUR HANDS. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.’” Hebrews 1:1-3, 10-12 NIV

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much AS THE BUILDER OF THE HOUSE has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful AS A SON over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” Hebrews 3:1-6

Astonishingly, the writer to the Hebrews not only describes Christ as the Agent of creation, who sustains all things by his powerful word, roles which the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish literature ascribe to Yahweh,

“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, ‘I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone,’” Isaiah 44:24 – cf. 42:5; 45:12, 18-22; 48:12-13

“Because of him his messenger finds the way, and by his word all things hold together.” Sirach 43:26

He even goes as far as to ascribe the following Psalm, which describes Yahweh as the unchanging Creator and Sustainer, to the Son!

“Hear my prayer, O Lord! And let my cry for help come to You… But You, O Lord, abide forever, And Your name to all generations… I say, ‘O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days, Your years are throughout all generations. ‘Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.” Psalm 102:1, 12, 24-27

Therefore, since inspired writings such as Mark’s Gospel and Hebrews depict Jesus as the beloved Son and Heir of God, Williams cannot argue that this is a later doctrine which was not held by the first Christians.

Hence, Williams now faces a huge dilemma since the very same Gospels that he himself appealed to affirm that the Lord Jesus owns everything that belongs to God, which includes Muhammad and his followers such as Williams.   

To put this in another way, Williams must come to terms with the fact that Jesus and his followers taught that Christ is the Heir of all creation who has power over every creature, and is therefore Muhammad’s sovereign Lord and Judge!

Williams’ problems are far from over, as we shall see in the next part of our rebuttal.