Updated in April of 2013
Muhammad and the Arabs just did not get a credible Biblical and Evangelical witness
Originally, this was entitled, “How and Why Did Churches become Mosques in the Middle East?, part 2.
Marian devotion and piety in the Roman Catholic Church
This is a continuation of my series on church history, but also a continuation of an earlier series on Why and How Churches became Mosques in the Middle East.
An Evangelical Introduction to Church History, Part 4
I have long contended that the piety and practices surrounding Mary, the mother of Jesus, and praying for the dead and making icons and statues that really poliferated in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries contributed to the Arabs and Muhammad mis-understanding what the doctrine of the Trinity really is. The title “Mother of God” (Theotokos” – “the one bearing God”) in 431 AD at the Council of Ephesus, was not meant to exalt Mary, but to say that Jesus was God from the time of His conception in the womb of Mary, and pointed to His pre-existence before He became flesh. (John 1:1-5; 14; Philippians 2:5-8; John 17:5) When the Muslim hears “Mary is the Mother of God”, he or she is thinking that an eastern Christian or Roman Catholic is saying “Mary brought God into existence”; and this is a blasphemy. Those Marian piety and practices, which we believe are very wrong and unbiblical, coupled with the Collyridians, an early church cult on the fringes of the Roman Empire (Northern Arabia, area today known as Jordan), which worshipped Mary and offered raisin cakes to her image; along with calling Mary, “The Mother of God”, contributed to the Muslim mis-undertanding of the Trinity, and this misunderstanding continues to this day. Nestorius was right to say that the phrase would lead to mis-understanding; but he was wrong to separate the 2 natures of Christ so much that it seemed he was saying Christ was 2 persons.
The Qur’an clearly misunderstands the doctrine of the Trinity by these lines of evidence:
in Surah 5:116 – Isa (Jesus the Messiah) says, “did I say worship me and my mother as two gods along with Allah?” So the author of the Qur’an thought the Trinity was the Father, the Son, and the Mother !! I wonder why?
In Surah 5:72-75 – The Qur’an mentions Jesus and Mary together as mortals who eat normal food, which shows that the early Muslims are arguing agaisnt the Deity of Christ and the Deity of Mary.
In Surah 112 – it says that Allah does not beget and is not begotten; which along with Surah 6:101, which says that Allah cannot have a son, because He has no wife – which shows how the Muslims understood the term “only begotten”.
A little personal background
In 1996, soon after I came home from living and ministering overseas in the foreign mission field(Turkey, among Iranian refugees); one of my best friends converted to Roman Catholicism, and that was shocking to me. His name is Rod Bennett. We spent several evenings with 3-5 hour debates in the first few months of his decision; and then over the next 8 years, we had several lunches that went into hours into the afternoon; and lots of emails and phone calls, debating the Bible, theology, church history, Roman Catholicism, Luther, the Reformation, Calvin, etc. until Rod told me in 2004 that he does not want to discuss these issues any more with me. He told me to go and debate Roman Catholic Dave Armstrong on-line, if I wanted to debate another former Evangelical. Because Dave Armstrong seems to love to debate more than anyone I have ever met. (I debated with Dave Armstrong for years at his old blogs from around 2004-2014. In doing that, I came across another interesting gentleman named David Waltz, who is much nicer than Dave Armstrong, and much more knowledgeable about church history. Dave Armstrong banned me from commenting on his blog recently. (end of 2015-2016) Also David Waltz knew a lot about Islam and Shiite Islam and Bahai’ism. So, when I had extra time, I would discuss issues with David Waltz on his blog.
David Waltz grew up Jehovah’s Witness, converted to the Protestant Faith, went to an Orthodox Presbyterian Church for a while, later converted to Roman Catholicism, then a few years ago left the Roman Church(2010), and now won’t reveal what church he goes to. See here
for where David announces that he has left the Roman Catholic Church.
David Waltz wrote to me and asked me this question:
“As for the presence of Nicene and Chalcedonian Christianity in Arabia in the 6th and early 7th century, it is my understanding that Arabia was a haven for non-Orthodox sects—am I correct on this?”
My answer to his question:
I don’t think there was much Chalcedonian (meaning those that ascribed to the Chalcedonian Creed of the Council in 451 AD, that Christ is one person with two natures; 100 % man and 100 % God.) Christianity in Arabia at all, but there was Trinitarian Christianity from the Monophysites and Nestorians (they both agreed with the Nicean and Constantinople councils and the doctrine of the Trinity) around the borders of Arabia. There was maybe some in extreme North Arabia where Saudi Arabia and Jordan are today; Muhammad and others came into contact with that in Palestine and Syria along the caravan routes. The lack of Biblical evangelism and missions set up a vacuum for more false doctrines, heresies, and eventually a new religion.
As Richard Bell notes, “Coming now a little nearer to the actual cradle of Islam, . . . In a way the existence of a Christian Church here belongs to the Christian encirclement of Arabia rather than to the history of Christianity in Arabia itself.” (emphasis mine)
(Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment. London: MacMillan, 1926, republished in 1968, The Edinburgh University Lectures, p. 33; available on line at:
Najran in the south, and Yemen had mixtures of Monophysite and later, some Nestorian churches were established.
Najran Christianity was completely wiped out by Islam later and Yemen also eventually.
The Collyridians were a heretical sect in N. Arabia that worshiped Mary and offered baked cakes to her image. Many scholars believe that the Arabs who knew about them and saw them influenced Muhammad’s idea of what he thought the Christians believed about Mary. That, along with the other Mary devotion among the orthodox and nominal Christians, contributed to his mis-understanding of the Trinity, the Son of God issue, and who Mary and Jesus really are. (See Qur’an 5:116; 6:101; 112)
My point is that Muhammad could not distinguish between the Monophysites, Nestorians, Chalcedonians, and Apocryphal Gnostic sects, desert monks, ascetics, and the Collyridians (if they got that idea from them); — they could not distinguish between them because of the Marian practices, images, bowing before icons, prayers to Mary, and calling her “the Mother of the God”. It was a bad witness and lack of evangelical missions on the Orthodox part; combined with the heretics who were exiled to the frontiers. Cults and heresies grew up and new religions are started from a lack of outreach and witness.
The early Christian dialogues with Muslim Caliphs, John of Damascus, defender of icons (born 676 – died 754 ? – last years in Palestine), Nestorian Timothy (780 -820 AD), Al Kindy, (813-833 ?) apology during the reign of Al Ma’amun to name a few of the more famous ones, came later than the earlier days of Muhammad and the influences on the founding of Islam. The damage had been done by the lack of outreach and sound doctrine centuries before; and the presence of Apocryphal gospels, heretical sects and nominal Christians; and what Muhammad and early Arabs perceived from the Marian piety, practices, and growing defense of doctrines that would later become dogmas, like the Perpetual Virginity and Assumption, which John of Damascus defended. (Gnostic and apocryphal writings such as the Protoevangelium of James; the Odes of Solomon, and the Ascension of Isaiah were being used to support the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. (see Mary- Another Redeemer?
James R. White. Bethany, 1998, p. 33.) For more on details on the Protoevangelium of James, see several of Turretinfan’s blog posts: “On the Proto-Evangelium of James”
The heresies of the Collyridians and Gnostics and Arians were certainly worse than Nestorians and Monophysites. The Al Kindy apology has some controversy behind it, as to whether all that we have today was there originally, or was it edited and added to over the centuries. Many of the first historians and administrators for the Arab Muslims in conquered eastern parts of Byzantine and in Mesopotamia were Nestorian or Monophysite or Byzantine/Chalcedonian. They seem to be very nominal and not really converted; as they helped compile a lot of the early records of Islam, especially from Damascus and Baghdad. The apparent contradictions in the Qur’an and the Haddith about Jesus and the credibility of the previous Scriptures (Torah, Zabor, and Injeel) point to what seems to be a later redaction. (“Zabor” – Psalms of David; “Injeel” = “Gospel” of Jesus Al Masih)
If the Muslim Hadiths are truly credible about Warqa Bin Naufal; a “hanif”, ‘a seeker of the true religion of Abraham”; then it is hard to know what kind of a “Christian” he was, for he encouraged Muhammad that he was a prophet of God for his people. Warqa was the cousin of Khadija, the first wife of Mohammad. Some Muslims have claimed that Warqa was an Ebionite, a Jewish sect that denied the Deity of Christ and many of them denied the virgin birth.
When the revelation came to Muhammad at the cave of Hira, He was shaken with fear, came to his wife and told her of what had happened.
She took him to her cousin Warqa bin Naufal who was a reputed to be someone who knew the previous Scriptures and the Hebrew language, and had embraced Christianity. After hearing from Mohammad what has happened on the mountain of Hira, he said that was the Angel Gabriel, who had always brought revelation to the Messengers of God before him. Warqa Bin Naufal died shortly after this.
As a preacher/missionary/Evangelist I heard on this subject in 1979 said, “Too bad Warqa did not have a gospel tract for Muhammad! Never under-estimate someone coming to you for spiritual guidance!” (Rev. Ian North, sermon, “A Christian Response to Islam”; First Baptist Church of Atlanta, 1979) That was the first time I had really heard about Islam and what it taught, in that sermon back in 1979. Rev. North was a godly man, one of my heros of the faith, and was the minister who married my wife and I in 1988. I will never forget him.
For more details on that; and some controversy over the truth of the history of the Islamic sources and Warqa, see: