The Qur’anic Etymologies Of ”Nazarene” And ”Gospel” And Their Historical Implications

Journal of the Society for Qur’anic Studies, Number 1, Volume 1, 2001

The Qur’an and the New Testament agree on a number of issues regarding Jesus Christ. Both books, for instance, stress that Jesus, who is called ” ‘Isa” in the Qur’an, was conceived miraculously by his mother Mary. He had no father. This is what the Qur’an says about the miraculous birth of ‘Isa:

When the angels said: “O Maryam! Allah gives you good news with a word from Him, whose name is al‑Masih, ‘Isa the son of Maryam, illustrious in this world and the hereafter and of those who are brought near [to Allah]” (3.45)

“And he shall speak to the people when in the cradle and when of old age, and [he shall be] one of the righteous.” (3.46)

“She said: “My Lord! How can I have a child when no man has touched me?” He said: “It is so [because] Allah creates what He pleases; when He has decreed a matter, He only says to it: “Be”, and it is (3.47). And He shall teach him the Book and Wisdom and the Tawrat [Torah] and the Injil.” (3.48)

The New Testament states the following in the Gospel of Matthew1:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.”

“But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, sayin: “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew, 1:18-21)

Both books also give details about miracles performed by ‘Isa though, again, not without differences. For instance, the New Testament makes no mention of ‘Isa speaking while still an infant in the cradle or his creation of birds out of clay:

“When All?h said: “O ‘Isa, son of Maryam! Remember My favor on you and on your mother, that I have supported you with the Ruh al-Qudus [Spirit of al-Qudus], [and made you] speak to the people in the cradle and when of old age; and that I taught you the Book and Wisdom and the Tawrat and the Injil; and that you create out of clay the figure of a bird by My permission, then you breath into it and it becomes a bird by My permission; and heal he who was born blind and the leprous by My permission; and that you raise the dead by My permission; and that I withheld the Children of Isra’il [Israel] from you when you came to them with clear proofs, but those who disbelieved among them said: ‘This is nothing but clear magic’.” (5.110)

On the other hand, the New Testament refers to miracles that are not mentioned in the Qur’an, such as that of ‘Isa turning water into wine:

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him: “They have no wine”. Jesus saith unto her: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come”. His mother saith unto the servants: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

“And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them: “Fill the waterpots with water”. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them: “Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.”

“When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants which drew the water knew), the governor of the feast called the bridegroom. And saith unto him: “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.” (John, 2:1-10).

Given the fact that all forms of alcohol are proscribed in the Qur’an, the latter rejects implicitly the occurrence of this supposed miracle.

While there are obvious similarities between the picture of ‘Isa in the Qur’an and the Bible, the differences between both accounts are in fact substantial and by far more significant than the details they share. One such fundamental difference is that the Qur’anic ‘Isa who received revelation from All?h was human, whereas Jesus of the New Testament had a divine nature and origin and is referred to as “the son of God”.

Not surprisingly, Western historians and theologians have both shown great interest in Jesus of the New Testament. However, very little time and efforts have been invested in studying the Qur’anic ‘Isa. One obvious reason for this is the widely held belief that the Qur’an is nothing other than a freely edited version of the Bible, a view that implies that the Qur’an has no historical value. So, although historians have had a hard time trying to relate the Biblical Jesus to history proper, they never thought of seeking help from the neglected Qur’an.

The present study is an attempt to remedy this situation. We will examine particular so far unnoticed or ignored differences between the story of ‘Isa in the Qur’an and its equivalent in the New Testament. The first concerns the etymology of the word “Nazarene”. The ultimate aim is to unveil very important historical implications of this difference between the Qur’anic story of ‘Isa and its Biblical counterpart. We will also study the etymology of the word “Gospel” which is less complicated than that of “Nazarene”. Finally, we will mention the historical event which the Gospels misrepresent as the “last supper”.

1. The Etymology of “Nazarene”

In the Greek text of the New Testament,’Isa is called (Nazorios) or (Nazarenos), both of which are translated into English as “Nazarene”. Only the first form of the Greek epithet of ‘Isa is used in the Gospel of John (18:5, 18:7, 19:9) and in Acts (2:22, 3:6, 4:10, 6:14, 22:8, 26:9), and it seems preferred in Matthew (2:23, 24:71) and Luke (18:37) as well. However, Mark consistently uses the second form of ‘Isa’s appellation, (Mark, 1:24, 14:67, 16:6),2 which makes appearances also in Luke (4:34, 24:19). The first epithet is also used once in Acts (24:5) to refer to the Christians when Tertullus the orator accuses Paul of being “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”.

According to the writer of the Gospel of Matthew, ‘Isa’s epithet, the Nazarene, is derived from the name of the town where he was brought up, or (Nazareth):

“And he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene’.” (Matthew, 2:23)

Indeed, while and are sometimes translated as “Nazarene”, at other times they are rendered “of Nazareth”.

The Matthean etymology of Nazarene has been accepted by some scholars (e.g. Pellett, 1962: 525; Davies & Allison, 1988: 281), but a linguistic difficulty with this etymology has been pointed out. Some researchers have indicated that while deriving from is not problematic, the same is not true of . In its entry for “Nazarene”, Encyclopedia Britannica states that the exact meaning of this latter title is “not known”. However, it has been claimed that, though difficult, it is not impossible for to have come from (e.g. Moore, 1920: 428; Davies & Allison, 1988: 281). Cullmann has also pointed out that the spelling of the name of the home town of ‘Isa varies in the written tradition so it is not really possible to rule out the derivation of from . He does, however, find it still unexplainable how “in Greek the unusual form maintained its position so consistently alongside the simpler form which was, after all, available.” (Cullmann, 1962: 523)

There are other convincing reasons to reject the claim that ‘Isa was known by a title that meant “of Nazareth” which is how Matthew understood the word Nazarene. Nazareth is first mentioned in the New Testament and there is no older independent record that mentions that particular town. It is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Talmud3, the Midrashim4 or Josephus5. The earliest mention of Nazareth outside the New Testament is from Julius Africanus (170-240 CE) which was cited by the bishop and historian Eusebius of Caesarea (d. ca. 340 CE). It is generally accepted that this absence of Nazareth from ancient historical records is due to the fact that it was a small, insignificant town (e.g. Pellett, 1962: 524; Moore, 1920: 429). The population of Nazareth is estimated from archaeological excavations to have been between 50-2000 at the time of ‘Isa (Theissen & Mertz, 1998: 165). This sounds quite possible. But then the obvious argument here is that if Nazareth was such an insignificant town then what sense would it have made to relate ‘Isa to it? After all, no person is introduced by relating him to a place that is equally unknown!

It is not only that ‘Isa could not have been related to an insignificant town such as Nazareth. The more fundamental problem lies in the very concept that ‘?s? could have been given a title after a city at all, even if it was a big and major city. Davies and Allison (1988: 281) have indicated that it was common custom among Jews to distinguish individuals according to the place of their origin. But then ‘?s? was by no means an ordinary person for this to apply to him. ‘?s? could not have been called after the city in which he was brought up or where he became known, because he acquired from the time of his infancy two unique titles after his unique, miraculous birth. It was inevitable that ‘?s? was called something that reminded people of his unique birth. This is indeed what the Qur’an tells us happened.

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Accordingly to the Qur’an, the angels told Mary that her son would be known as “al-Masih” (the Messiah), “‘Isa” and “Ibn Maryam” (the son of Mary):

“When the angels said: “O Maryam! Allah gives you good news with a word from Him, whose name is al-Masih, ‘Isa the son of Maryam, illustrious in this world and the hereafter and of those who are brought near [to Allah].” (3.45)

In most of its occurrences in the Qur’an, “al-Masih” is mentioned in conjunction with ‘Isa’s second title, “the son of Maryam”. We will concentrate here on the title of “the son of Maryam” which occurs in the Qur’an as twice as al-Masih. While the latter is an equally important title, which is why it was used alongside “Ibn Maryam”, it is outside the scope of this study.

While naming him “‘Isa” and titling him “the son of Mary” and “al-Masih”, the Qur’an never refers to this Prophet with a title that corresponds to “Nazarene”, as the New Testament does, or relates him to a particular city.

‘Isa became known as “the son of Mary” from the time of his birth because he was conceived without a father. The nature of ‘?s? ?s birth would have made it inevitable that people used the title of “the son of Mary” when referring to him. The fact that ‘?s? had such very distinguished titles since his early days meant that there was no need at any later stage of his life to coin an epithet for him. Even when the news about his miracles started to spread there would have been no reason to give him a new title as his old titles already referred to the greatest miracle in his life. It would have been even more pointless to replace the unique title of “the son of Mary” with a general appellation that merely related ‘?s? to a certain place. Any person from that city could have been named after it, but only ‘?s? could have been given a title derived from the fact that he was conceived without a father. Furthermore, it just does not make any sense to suggest that ‘?s?’s followers in particular could have replaced the meaningful and distinguished title of “the son of Mary” with an unimpressive, inexpressive, blank and impartial title which merely related ‘?s? to a city, not to mention an insignificant one. The New Testament’s suggestion that ‘?s?’s title was “of Nazareth” is absurd.

But how can one explain the absence of ‘?s?’s historical title, “the son of Mary”, that the Qur’an reveals, from the New Testament? Well, it is not totally absent from the New Testament for it figures in a distorted form. The true title of “the son of Mary” is the origin of the false title of “the son of man” in the New Testament. But why this alteration? Indeed, what sense would it make to call someone “the son of man” when each and every man is a son of man? This title was intended to serve a more sophisticated purpose than simply referring to ‘?s?. Those who coined the term “the son of man” aimed at emphasizing what they perceived as the dual nature of ‘?s? as the son of man and the son of God. With “the son of man”, the inventors of this title implicitly stressed the second appellation that people gave to ‘?s?, “the son of God”. “The son of Mary” is really a unique epithet that referred and refers to ‘?s? only, but the inventors of “the son of man” were after something that refers to “the son of God” rather than to ‘?s?.

The combination of the New Testament?s claim that ‘?s? was known with the title “Nazarene” and the Matthean etymology of this word has yet another insurmountable problem. We have already mentioned that Acts 24:5, as well as later writings, use the plural word “Nazarenes” to refer to the followers of ‘?s?. Now, even if we assume for the sake of argument that there was some sense in calling ‘?s? a Nazarene, having lived in Nazareth, it would certainly not make any sense at all to extend this title to his followers who would have come from various places. Needless to say, the followers of a Nazarene, in the Matthean sense of this word, do not become Nazarenes themselves! Cullmann for one has noted that if Nazarene meant someone from Nazareth, as Matthew has it, then “it would certainly be unusual if [the Christians] were referred to as ‘people from Nazareth'” (Cullmann, 1962: 523). So, accepting the Matthean etymology of the word Nazarene as a title of ‘?s? is not really of much prudence as suggested by Davies and Allison (1988: 281).

In deriving Nazarene from Nazareth, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew cites a prophecy in the Old Testament:

“And he [Joseph] arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither, notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets. He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew, 2:21-23)

The Gospel writer has, in fact, been less than a reliable historian for the very simple reason that the prophecy that he cites occurs nowhere in the Old Testament! This false information undermines the credibility of the given etymology. Even neglecting the above problems with deriving Nazarene from Nazareth, this derivation still stands accused of having no foundation. There is really no reason to accept that Nazarene was derived from Nazareth rather than from a number of other possible origins (see, for instance, the possibilities compiled by Davies and Allison, 1988).

But there is another equally significant conclusion to draw from Matthew?s citation of a non-existent Biblical passage. Randel Helms (1989) has shown that the writers of the Gospels spared no effort in correlating Biblical passages with events in the life of ‘?s? to stress that ‘?s? was the fulfillment of those Biblical prophecies. But this attitude was so uncompromising that the history of ‘?s? was itself written in the Gospels to portray ‘?s? as the manifestation of those ancient Biblical sayings and prophecies. This suggests that in the case under discussion the reverse has happened. That is, as the title “Nazarene” was already in circulation, it was the correspondent Biblical passage that the Gospel writer needed to invent; and he did just that.

It is an acknowledged fact today that there is no evidence whatsoever linking the title “Nazarene” to the name of the town of Nazareth. There is also a very strong argument against such a derivation. Interestingly, the Qur’an has already implied some 14 centuries ago that deriving “Nazarene” from “Nazareth” is wrong as it gave a totally different etymology for “Nazarene”. Additionally, the Qur’an is absolutely clear that “Nazarene” was not a title of ‘?s? himself but of his followers. Even those researchers who thought of relating the word Nazarene to other than Nazareth worked on the wrong assumption that Nazarene was the title of ‘?s?; it never was (see also the discussion in ?10.5 in Fatoohi and Al-Dargazelli (1999)). ‘?s? was also known only as “the son of Mary” and “al-Masih”.

The Qur’anic words that correspond to “Nazarene” and “Nazarenes” are Nasrani and Nasara, respectively. Both singular and plural forms of this word were not coined from or introduced into Arabic by the Qur’an at the time of its revelation. These words were already used to refer to the Christians. They did not mean anything else in Arabic. This fact is also reflected in the unique way in which these singular and plural forms of the same word relate to each other. Therefore, the words Nasrani and Nasara which the Arabs were already using when the Qur’an was revealed would have been, or developed from, older non-Arabic words. Had the name Nasrani/Nasara been used for the Christians in the Qur’an without any clarification, it would have been very difficult to trace back its origin and meaning. Fortunately, there are two sets of ayat6, each set consisting of two ayat, when combined together the meaning of the word Nasrani/Nasara becomes absolutely clear. This is explained below.

The word Nasara is mentioned in several Qur’anic ayat. Two of these ayat refer to the followers of ‘?s? with the phrase “those who have said ‘We are Nasara'”:

“And from those who have said “We are Nasara” We took their covenant, but they forgot a part of what they were reminded of, therefore We caused among them enmity and hatred to the Day of Resurrection; and All?h will inform them of what they were doing.” (5.14)

“Certainly you will find that the most vehement of people in hostility to those who believed [to be] the Jews and the polytheists. And you will certainly find that the nearest of them in affection to those who believed [to be] those who have said: “We are Nasara”, for there are among them priests and monks and for they do not behave arrogantly.” (5.82)

Defining the Christians in terms of their declaration of being Nazarenes stems in fact from a specific event which involved ‘?s? and his disciples and which the Qur’an relates in the following ayat:

“But when ‘?s? sensed disbelief on their part, he said: “Who are my Ansar [supporters] on the way to All?h?” The disciples said: “We are the Ansar of All?h. We believe in All?h and [you] bear witness that we are Muslims.” (3.52)

“O you who believe! Be Ansar [supporters] of All?h, as ‘?s?, the son of Maryam, said to the disciples: “Who are my Ansar on the way to All?h?” The disciples said: “We are the Ansar of All?h”. And a party of the Children of Isra’il believed and another party disbelieved; so We aided those who believed against their enemy, and they became the uppermost.” (61.14)

It is thus obvious that the equivalent of Nasara in the Arabic of the Qur’an7 is Ansar. The verb of “Ansar” is nasara which means “supported, aided, helped, sided with…etc”. So, “Ansar” means “supporters”. The above two ayat reveal the religious context and the specific meaning of the word “Ansar” when used to refer to the Christians. The term Ansar occurs in the context of calling the Christians the Ansar of ‘?s? on the way to All?h which means ultimately the supporters of All?h to Whom ‘?s? was calling people.

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Similar use of the verb nasara occurs in several ayat in the Qur’an when referring to the believers in Prophet Muhammad. For instance, in the following two ayat the first states that by emigrating from their cities to follow Prophet Muhammad who himself had fled persecution, the believers “supported All?h and His Messenger”. Here also, the support given to the Prophet is considered support to All?h Himself, meaning support to the cause of All?h. The second aya encourages the believers to “support All?h”, so that All?h may support them:

“[Some part of the alms is due] to the poor who have migrated, who have been driven out of their homes and their belongings, seeking favor from All?h and [His] pleasure, and supporting All?h and His Messenger: these are the truthful.” (59.8)

“O you who believe! If you support All?h He supports you and plant your feet firmly.” (47.7)

It is obvious, therefore, that the term Nasara was developed from an original word, presumably Aramaic, that meant Ansar in Arabic and which would also have been used in conjunction with a name of All?h to mean supporters of All?h. By the time of the Qur’an the Arabic speaking population of the Arabian Peninsula were using the words Nasrani/Nasara as a name for the Christians. But they were totally unaware of what they really meant as neither of these words were from the Arabic of the time and because their historical background was unknown. The Qur’an revealed to the Arabs a secret that neither they nor their ancestors had any knowledge of. However, this was not a secret to only the Arabs, but also to all those Christians and Jews who had lost contact with the Injil, the Book that All?h revealed to ‘?s? and in which He named the Christians “Nazarenes” or “supporters (of All?h)”. This ignorance is attested to by the Gospel of Matthew itself which gives a false etymology of the word Nazarene. The writers of the other Gospels implicitly accept the derivation of Nazarene from Nazareth, as do the Christians in general who also accept the New Testament?s claim that Nazarene was ‘?s?’s title.

In the event described in ayat 3.52 and 61.14, ‘?s? reminded his disciples of the name/description that All?h had already given to his followers in the Injil. Therefore, when asking them who were “[his] Ansar on the way to All?h”, the disciples replied to ‘?s? that they were the “Ansar of All?h”.

It is notable that All?h describes all the followers of ‘?s?, not only those who were contemporary to him, as “those who have said ‘We are Nasara'” (5.14, 5.82). This is in fact a reference to the original event mentioned in ayat 3.52 and 61.14, indicating that any person who declares himself/herself as a Nazarene implies by this claim that he/she has taken the same oath taken by the disciples when they declared themselves before ‘?s? as “Ansar of All?h”.

It should be noted here that some writers have felt it necessary to suggest a religious meaning for the word Nazarene and not (only) relate it to Nazareth. Moore has cited a number of such suggested etymologies. For instance, he cites an old comment on Matthew 2:23 which states that “Jesus was called Nazaraeus not only because his home was in Nazareth, but because he was the Saviour, ‘Servator’, from nasar, ‘servare’, (Moore, 1920: 430). We have already shown, however, that “Nazarene” wasn?t actually ‘?s?’s but his followers’ title.

Now, how does one explain the erroneous etymology of Nazarene suggested in Matthew? It is certainly intertwined with the misconception of Nazarene as a title of ‘?s?. The writer of that particular Gospel, like the writers of the other books of the New Testament, authored his book decades after the time of ‘?s?. By then, the word “Nazarenes” was already a name of the followers of ‘?s?. But by that time many details of the religion of ‘?s? had already been lost due to the fact that the Injil was no longer accessible to most people. The historical background of the name of ‘?s?’s followers, Nazarene, was one piece of information that had become unavailable to most people, including the writer of Matthew. However, Matthew reckoned that the similarity between the term Nazarene and the name of the town of Nazareth was too close to be fortuitous. So, he simply surmised that Nazarene must have originated from Nazareth, the name of the town where ‘?s? is supposed to have lived.

We now know that Nazarene was never derived from Nazareth. We also know that the similarity between Nazarene and Nazareth was not a mere coincidence, something that the writers of the Gospels have also noted. This leaves us with the very appealing conclusion that it is in fact Nazareth the town which acquired its name from the word “Nazarenes” and not the other way around as suggested in the New Testament. If that little town was indeed insignificant, as commonly accepted by scholars, then it could very easily have acquired the name “Nazareth” being the town “of the Nazarenes”. This means that the town could have been mentioned in older sources under its old name. There is no evidence to support the suggestion of some researchers that the silence of ancient writings on Nazareth indicates that this town was only later established.

2. The Etymology of “Gospel”

It might surprise some that the four Gospels of the New Testament should get the etymology of the word Nazarene totally wrong in this way. It should be remembered, however, that there is so much misunderstanding and confusion in the Gospels. Ironically enough, there is widespread ignorance concerning the full meaning of the word “Gospel” itself! The Qur’an , however, does explain to us the meaning of this word also.

The English word “Gospel”, which means “good news”, is known to be a translation of the Greek (Euaggelion: pronounced Euangelion). Yet scholars have struggled to find a convincing etymology for this word in the context of Christian thought. The Qur’an , on the other hand, leads us to the answer to this question by telling us that All?h revealed to ‘?s? a Book called “Injil”:

“And We sent after them in their footsteps ‘?s? , the son of Maryam, verifying what was before him of the Tawrat and We gave him the Injil in which was guidance and light, and verifying what was before it of Tawrat and a guidance and an admonition for the All?h-fearing.” (5.46)

It is clear that “Injil” is the same Greek word, and thus means “good news”. The following aya explains why the Book of ‘Isa was “good news”:

“And when ‘?s?, the son of Maryam, said: “O children of Isra’il! I am the Messenger of All?h to you, confirming that which is before me of the Tawrat and bringing the good news of a Messenger who will come after me, his name being Ahmad”; but when he came to them with clear proofs they said: “This is clear magic.” (61.6)

This aya reveals that the Book of ‘?s? acquired its name from the fact that it brought the “good news” about the forthcoming commission of Prophet Muhammad. The name “Ahmad” in the above aya is one of the names of Prophet Muhammad; both names Ahmad and Muhammad have the same meaning of “the most praised one”.

Bringing the “good news” about Prophet Muhammad and confirming the divine origin of the Tawrat were the main goals of the mission of ‘?s?. The former was so central in ‘?s?’s mission that All?h named the Book that He revealed to ‘?s? after it. A Book whose name effectively meant “the good news about Prophet Muhammad” must have contained lots of details about him. This is indeed mentioned in the Qur’an :

“Those who follow the unlettered Messenger-Prophet whom they find written down in the Tawrat and the Injil, [who] enjoins them good and forbids them evil, makes lawful to them the good things and makes unlawful to them impure things, and removes from them their burden and the shackles which are upon them. So, those who believe in him, honor him and support him, and follow the light which has been sent down with him, are the successful.” (7.157)

“Muhammad is the Messenger of All?h, and those with him are firm against the disbelievers, compassionate among themselves; you see them bowing down, falling prostrate, seeking favor from All?h and [His] pleasure; their marks are in their faces as a result of prostration; this is their similitude in the Tawrat and their similitude in the Injil: like a seed that puts forth its sprout, then strengthens it, so it becomes stout and stands firmly on its stem, delighting the sowers; so that He enrages the disbelievers on account of them. All?h has promised those among them who believe and do righteous deeds forgiveness and a great reward.” (48.29)

It is worth noting that there is nothing in the four Gospels themselves that objects to understanding the word “Gospel” in those books as meaning a “book”. In King James? version of the New Testament, the word “Gospel” occurs five times in the Gospel of Matthew (4:23, 9:35, 11:5, 24:14, 26:13), six times in Mark (1:1, 1:14, 1:15, 13:10, 14:9, 16:15), and four times in Luke (4:18, 7:22, 9:6, 20:1). Odd it may seem, this word doesn?t occur at all in John! What concerns us here, however, is the fact that the fifteen occurrences of this word in the Gospels make it difficult to understand “Gospel” as a “concept” of some sort and suggest instead that the “Gospel” is a “thing”. Moreover, the fact that the “Gospel” is described twelve times as something that is “preached”, by ‘?s? ” himself (e.g. Matthew, 4:23, 9:35) or his disciples (e.g. Mark, 16:15; Luke, 9:6), strongly suggests that the word was seen by the authors of the four Gospels as referring to a “book”. In the remaining three occurrences of the word “Gospel” in the Gospels of the New Testament, Mark describes it as something that should be “believed” (Mark, 1:15) and “published among all nations” (Mark, 13.10), and mentions it in the very first sentence of his book: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark, 1:1).

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The eighty occurrences of “Gospel” in the remaining books of the New Testament are more confused. The majority of cases, however, are in line with the use of the word in the three Gospels, with most occurrences describing it as something that can be “preached”. Other occurrences of the word “Gospel” include a reference in the book of Acts to “the word of the gospel” that the gentiles should “hear” and “believe” (Acts, 15:7).

It is obvious, therefore, that the word “Gospel” was at some point conceived as meaning or referring to a “book” and that it was later misused. In fact, the word “Gospels” has been used to refer to the first four “books” of the New Testament. In other words, the uses of the word “Gospel” in the Gospels themselves and the rest of the New Testament are in line with the Qur’an ic revelation that the term Injil, i.e. the “Gospel” in English, was actually the name of a book. That was the Book that All?h revealed to His Prophet ‘?s?.

3. “The Last Supper” or “A Table Spread with Food From Heaven”?

The terms “Nazarene” and “Gospel” are not isolated cases of the authors of the Gospels, like their peers who wrote the Old Testament, mixing true and false historical information. There are many other similar instances. One particularly interesting example of how the authors of the Gospels misrepresented the history of ‘?s? is that of the so-called “last supper”.

The four Gospels differ substantially in their detailed accounts of the event of the “last supper”. Contradiction between the Gospels, however, is not our concern here. We will confine ourselves, therefore, to their descriptions of how that supper was organized:

“Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him: “Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?” And he said: “Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him: “The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples””. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.” (Matthew, 26:17-19)

“And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him: “Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?” And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them: “Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water, follow him. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house: ?The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?? And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared; there make ready for us”. And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them; and they made ready the passover.” (Mark, 14:12-16)

“Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying: “Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat”. And they said unto him: “Where wilt thou that we prepare?”. And he said unto them: “Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house: ?The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples??. And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready”. And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.” (Luke, 22:7-13)

“Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.” (John, 13:1-2)

This is another instance of the typical contradiction between Gospels. While Mark and Luke provide very similar descriptions of the event, Matthew and John come up with totally different accounts that contain nothing about the miracle mentioned by Mark and Luke.

The truth about this event was revealed by Allah in the Qur’an in the following ayat:

“When the disciples said: “O ‘Isa son of Maryam! Is your Lord able to send down to us a table spread with food from heaven?” He said: “Be fearful of All?h if you are believers.” (5.112)

“They said: “We wish to eat thereof and to satisfy our hearts and to know that you have indeed spoken the truth to us and that we may be of the witnesses to it” (5.113). `Isa the son of Maryam said: “O All?h, our Lord! Send down to us a table spread with food from heaven that should be a feast for the first of us and for the last and a sign from You, and give us sustenance, and You are the best of the Providers of sustenance.” (5.114)

“All?h said: “I will send it down to you, so whoever shall disbelieve afterwards from among you, surely I will punish him with a torment that I will not punish with anyone among the peoples.” (5.115)

Making a feast to descend from heaven, in response to a request from his disciples, is another miracle of ‘?s? that the New Testament never mentions. This is the real event behind the story of the “last supper” in the New Testament.

4. Conclusion

Unlike the Old and New Testaments of the Bible which are full of wrong, inaccurate and contradictory information, the Qur’an shows amazing accuracy and consistency. Two particularly interesting instances that illustrate this fact and which we have studied in this paper are the etymology of each of the words “Nazarene” and “Gospel” and their historical implications. The relevant information in the New Testament lacks accuracy and consistency, let alone being convincing. It is also impossible to reconcile that information with known historical facts. One result of all of this is distorting important aspects of the history of Prophet ‘?s?.

The Qur’an, on the other hand, offers an accurate etymology for each of the words “Nazarene” and “Gospel”. This Qur’anic information sheds the light on historical facts about Prophet ‘?s? that cannot be discovered from another source. This information and its historical implications are consistent with the rest of the Qur’an and well in line with established historical facts. We also saw how the event of the “last supper” in the Gospels is in fact a distorted version of a rather different event.

One significant fact about the different nature of the Bible and the Qur’an is that the more the Bible is studied the more its flaws become apparent, whereas the more the Qur’an is examined the more is seen of its infallibility. No better ending for this article than the following Qur’anic aya that stresses the above fact:

“Do they not ponder on the Qur’an? And if it were from anyone other than All?h they would have found in it much contradiction.” (4.82)

References

Cullmann, O. (1962). Nazarene. In: The Interpreter?s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, K-Q, New York: Abingdon Press, 523-524.

Davies, W. D. & Allison, D. C. (1988). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospels According to Saint Matthew, vol. 1: Introduction and Commentary to Matthew, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Limited.

Fatoohi, L. & Al-Dargazelli, S. (1999). History Testifies to the Infallibility of the Qur’an: Early History of the Children of Israel, Malaysia, A. S. Noordeen

Moore, G. F. (1920). “Nazarene and Nazareth”. In: F. J. Foakes Jackson & K. Lake (eds.), The Beginnings of Christianity, Part I, vol. 1: Prolegomena I; the Acts of the Apostles, London: Macmillan & co., 426-432.

Pellett, D. C. (1962). “Nazareth”. In: The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, K-Q, New York: Abingdon Press, 524-526.

Theissen, G. & Mertz, A. (1998). The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide, translated from German by John Bowden, London: SCM Press.

Helms, R. (1989). Gospel Fictions, New York: Prometheus Books.

Footnotes

  1. We use in this article the King James Version of the New Testament. []
  2. The first form is used in Mark (10:47). []
  3. The Talmud (3rd-6th century CE) is the written record of both the Mishnah, which is the earliest rabbinical codification and record of the oral Bible dating to about 200 CE, and the Gemara which consists of records of discussions on the Mishnah. []
  4. The Midrashim (singular: Midrash) are rabbinical commentaries on the Biblical text dating from about 300 CE. []
  5. The Jewish historian Joseph ben Matthias, better known with his Roman name Flavius Josephus (37-110 CE). []
  6. The Qur’an calls its verses “ayat”. The singular of ayat is “aya”. []
  7. At the time of the revelation of the Qur’an there were a number of different Arabic dialects in the Arabian Peninsula. []

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