This book explores Christian origins by examining a key New Testament epistle, Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, seen by Christians as the charter of Christian liberty from the inherited Jewish law.
The New Testament in Muslim Eyes provides a close textual commentary on perhaps the earliest declaration of Paul’s apostleship and of his undying commitment to the risen Christ. It notes the subtleties of the Greek original against the backdrop of an exciting glimpse of Quranic Arabic parallels and differences. It asks: Does Paul qualify as a prophet of Allah (God)? The thoughts of Paul are assessed by examining his claims against the background of Islam’s rival views of Abraham and his legacy. The Arabic Quran framed and inspired the life of the Arab Apostle, Muhammad, who was sent, according to Islam, to all humanity, Jewish and Gentile alike. Pauline themes are set in dialectical tension with the claims of the Quran. Akhtar compares and contrasts the two rival faiths with regard to: the resources of human nature, the salvation of the sinner, and the status of the works of the law. Both Christians and Muslims concur on the need for God’s grace, an essential condition of success in the life of faith. The core Pauline Christian doctrine of justification by faith alone is scrutinised and assessed from a variety of non-Christian, especially Islamic, stances.
Providing an Islamic view of Christian origins, this book helps to build bridges between the two religions. It will be a valuable resource to students and scholars of Biblical Studies, Islamic Studies, and the Philosophy of Religion.
Table of Contents
1. Preface to the Commentary
2. ‘There is no gospel except the only Gospel’ (1.1-12)
3. The Apostle’s Apologia and Gospel (1.13-3.5)
4. The Promise of Abraham’s Gospel (3.6-4.7)
5. Pastoral Interventions: Saint Paul as Pastor Paul (4.8-20 and 5.2-12)
6. Covenant of the Spirit (4.21-5.1 and 5.13-26)
7. Law of Christ, Gospel of the Cross (6.1-18)
8. Crisis of Law, Promise of Grace: Inter-faith Interfaces in Galatians
9. Epilogue: Missionaries in Reverse: Learning from the Rival
Shabbir Akhtar is a research fellow at the Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies and a member of the Faculty of Theology and Religions at the University of Oxford, UK. He is author of The Quran and the Secular Mind (Routledge, 2007) and Islam as Political Religion (Routledge, 2010).
While thoroughly aware of conventional New Testament scholarship, this author brings a challenging and intensely interesting Muslim perspective to the Apostle Paul’s claim that Christ brings freedom from religious law. Skilfully drawing out themes that unite and divide members of three monotheistic religions, this commentary is remarkable, provocative, and essential reading.
Paul S. Fiddes, Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Oxford
This is an extremely interesting, and very important, book. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, with its insistence that the Galatian followers of Jesus do not need to be circumcised, is an absolutely central text for understanding the evolution of Christianity as a tradition of faith distinct from its Jewish ancestor, and this is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time that a Muslim writer has wrestled with it in as much detail as Dr. Akhtar has; he is very much to be congratulated for doing so with such thoroughness, and the Oxford Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies is also to be commended for providing the environment within which he has been enabled to do so.
Hugh Goddard, University of Edinburgh Reviewed for The Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies, Oxford