Articles

Positive Peer Pressure Opportunity

Peer pressure is nearly always looked upon as a negative thing. Addictions are another negative aspect of humanity. Recent research came up with some interesting findings about the impact behavioural changes have on those around us.

Peer pressure is nearly always looked upon as a negative thing. Makes sense really, if we are sinful by nature then the tendency to do wrong is much easier than the tendency to do right. It is easier to go with the flow than to swim upstream.

Addictions are another negative aspect of humanity – you rarely hear of people getting hooked on things that are good for you. I don’t expect there will ever be much demand for fruit eaters anonymous or a recovery group for people who get plenty of healthy exercise.

However, recent research on the power of the peer has come up with some interesting findings. It seems that any time someone changes their behaviour they have a significant impact on those around them. For example a recent study on the effect of reformed smokers has shown that a person is 20more likely to give up smoking if they are part of a network of people, where one has recently quit the habit.

It seems that this works even if the quitters are unknown to each other. What they didn’t report on is the number of other people in the network who may not have actually given up, but began to feel guilty about their smoking and thought about quitting.

Other behaviour patterns can be affected like this also. Paul alludes to this when he says “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1Cor 7:14)

What he is saying is that once a person becomes a believer, he or she will begin to have a powerful sanctifying influence on the whole family.

Sometimes that process will be very encouraging, like for example, the young man who discovered that his father stopped using filthy language, not because the son made an issue of it, but because he’d stopped using it himself. Then there was the man who stopped his heavy drinking because he no longer had a boozy wife. Initially the non-converted family members may also begin to ask questions but it doesn’t take long before conflict begins to emerge.

When you become a Christian you will greatly upset the family equilibrium in many ways. Your desire to be involved in church activities, read the Bible and talk about God, not to mention changes in moral behaviour will be very unsettling. Worse still you have inadvertently dragged your family into the greatest conflict the world has ever seen – the war between darkness and light, life and death, Satan and God. Satan will use every dirty trick in the book to get you back but also to derail every attempt you make at sharing your new-found faith at home.

The good news is that Paul’s words also indicate, by implication, that God will have a very deep and abiding interest in your family – you won’t be working alone.

The most important thing you can do is to live like a Christian. It is not about demanding that your family members buy into your newfound purity – it is about love, understanding, wisdom, patience and above all, grace. If you believe you have been forgiven much then you should act like you have been forgiven and be forgiving to others, especially those who are members of your own family.

Paul also indicated that when we live as Christ would have us live and say what Christ would have us say, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience ( 1 Cor 10:9) You communicate to the deepest yearnings within every man best when you begin to live the life that every man’s conscience desperately seeks to live. You have to assume that since men were created for God there is no peace in a man until he has found peace with his Heavenly Father. Let them see the peace in you and wait for the questions to come.

Preach the Gospel properly and you might get an opportunity to use words.

The Eternal Tip

Jesus died on the cross to take our sin to the tip and because He had an unblemished record, was free to leave that dreadful place and return to heaven.

When Jesus said the whole law can be summed in “Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and strength, and love you neighbour as yourself” he was indicating very powerfully that since love is the one word that is meant to define every thought, word and action in our lives then if every aspect of our lives is motivated by love we have fulfilled the whole law.

What lies at the heart of love is the idea of fairness or justice. It’s all about treating others in the way they should be treated and if you don’t know what that looks like then, says the Bible, consider how you would want to be treated yourself.

To love God and treat him with respect is nothing more than giving him a fair-go out of consideration for who he is and what He has done for us. Treating others as you would like to be treated is not only fair it is also a wonderful investment into the store of fairness of our community.

While it is true that we are sinners, the fact remains that we become all the more sinful if we are sinned against. Every act of selfishness or aggression increases the level of mistrust and resentment in the community and adds to further acts of selfishness. People generally become unforgiving when you do things to them that make it hard to forgive you for.

We are all walking around with two heavy packs on our backs; in one we have the guilt from the things we have done, in the other is the resentment for the things done to us by others. We may laugh at cranky old men but often the anger of age is the result of carrying all our lives, burdens we were never meant to carry.

When Jesus talked about the prison house of torture in Matthew 18:34, he wasn’t talking about Hell as such, but the foretaste of it you will experience in this life if you don’t take the grace of God seriously. Only when you stop paying your own debts can you cancel the debts of others.

Jesus talked a lot about Hell which is the English rendition of the word Gehenna the name given to the endlessly smouldering dump outside the city of Jerusalem. Hell could then be described as the garbage dump of the universe the ultimate destiny of the collective sin of mankind.

Jesus died on the cross to take our sin to the tip and because he had an unblemished record, was free to leave on his own accord.

The Gospel presents us with a choice. On one hand we can unload our burdens at the cross and walk away completely free. Free to live in joy, free to love and forgive others and free forever from the spectre of the garbage tip of the universe over our heads. Alternatively we carry our own burdens right through this life, making our lives miserable and adding to the world’s store of hatred, resentment and mistrust only to end up along with those burdens, in Hell forever. Peter compares the Christian who walks away from the grace of God to a dog who returns to his vomit or a pig who, having been washed, goes back to wallow in the mud. He then makes the valid point that those who turn away after gaining the knowledge of salvation are far worse off than those that have never heard. So it you are tempted to hold onto your rubbish you need to consider what you are up for. Contrary to what many Australians think, there is no booze down there, but there’s no place in the universe where to desire for it is greater.

Judge Fudge Residing

The day Adam decided to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he brought down upon himself the onerous task of trying to play the role of judge - a job that is well beyond our capabilites.

Judge Dodd of the district court has seen a number of his cases end up in the court of appeal because he has a habit of falling asleep during his trials. In my DPP days we thought a judge that didn’t fall asleep during a trial quite extraordinary. Anyone having to endure a barrister reading out a prepared speech for up to two hours will have a great deal of sympathy for the judge. I remember a case where the only person not struggling with the onslaught of the sandman was the one on his feet reading.

Meanwhile Justice Kirby of the High Court suggested this week that it would be good not only to televise the proceedings of the High Court but to have a dedicated channel allocated to it. Sounds like the big brother of big brothers. Imagine how riveting it would be if Judge Dodd made it to the high court.

If only Adam had understood what eating the fruit from that tree would lead to. It was called the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” because the eating of it was not only an act of rebellion which introduced evil into our world, it also loaded us up with the impossible task of deciding the difference between good and evil for ourselves. This act left us without an ultimate arbiter and umpire and we have been unable to regulate society or our own personal lives ever since.

We need someone who knows the past, present and future. Someone who is incorruptible and one who will never be confused by either complexity or emotions. We need one who not only understands our external actions but also our internal motives. We need one who knows exactly what the consequences of every action is. On top of that we also need someone who is compassionate and has our best interests at heart. It might also be helpful to have one who doesn’t fall asleep on the job.

The problem we have is that we are too close to the ground, too tied to the present, too wrapped in self interest, too insecure and too confused. We’re too prone to corruption, vice and our own foolish emotions to even begin to do the job well. Sadly we are deluded enough to think we are the best judge of good and evil and resent anyone, even God, telling us we are wrong. The moment one man feels he has the right to determine his own morality and ethics, he opens the door for every man to believe the same thing. How can you expect harmony when you have 6 1/2 billion people all living according to their own set of rules and all wanting to set up their own courts of justice.

Our friend Justice Kirby is a homosexual who has a vested interest in helping people feel comfortable living outside the boundaries of God’s laws. For him the final arbiter is that ungraspable masked man called Public Opinion. He wants the proceedings of the High Court made more public and a more rapid turnover of high court judges believing that such things would make the court more in tune with changing community standards. Haven’t we eaten enough fruit from that wretched tree already?

Solomon who was given the job of exercising human rule over the kingdom of God recognised that Israel, now firmly established in the promised land, was to be an experiment in re-creating Eden. That being the case, when offered anything he wanted byGod very wisely prayed for “a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9).

Solomon, unlike George Bush who seems to have suffered amnesia over the last few months, realised that mankind can never be trusted in the marketplace or anywhere else without an independent umpire. Solomon knew that God was the only one really qualified for the job.

What I find wonderful as a Christian is that the new Jerusalem, soon to drop out of heaven, will have no tree of the knowledge of good and evil because none will be silly enough to eat from it. All of us have learned from bitter experience that we can never really experience peace and harmony unless we leave the judging up to God.

In such a world Judge Dodd can finally rest in peace.

When did God Create Hell?

On which of the six days of creation did God create Hell?

Kids ask incredible questions take this one for example; “If God took six days to create the universe, on which day did he create Hell?”

The most obvious answer: “None of those days since at the end of all his creating he proclaimed every to be good!”. Hell hardly fits that category. However putting aside the six days of creation we are still left wondering about the origin and location of this place called Hell.

The question is very like the one that asks what lies beyond the outer boundaries of the universe, or if the universe is expanding then what is it expanding into? Saying that space itself expands with the universe doesn’t really remove the problem.

The Old Testament speaks of the place of the dead (Sheol) – a place of darkness whose inhabitants seem to be aware of its darkness (cf Psalm 88).

In the New Testament Jesus speaks a lot about hell he describes it as a place where the worm does not die, a place of perpetual fire and simply ‘outer darkness’ where there will be much ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). It would seem that hungry worms, gnashing teeth and burning fire are no more than metaphors used to drive home the agony, rather than the physicality of Hell. This leaves us with the ‘outer darkness’.

Darkness, according to the creation story in Genesis, is what existed before God created light. So darkness needs no creator, it’s simply the uncreated thing that exists in the absence of the created thing (light). Also if God is the creator of the universe then he must also be the creator of time and space at least the time and space we find ourselves in.

One could say that before there was time and space there was darkness. If hell is ‘outer darkness’ then it is outside of God’s light and by implication outside of all things created by God.

This, I suspect is what lies behind the contrasting way Heaven, or the new universe is depicted. It is a place where there is no darkness since it is bathed in the perpetual light of God (Is 60:19-20, Rev 22:5). When John speaks about God being light in whom there is no darkness at all I have to assume that darkness cannot co-exist with God.

People in Hell are those who avoid the light of God and so forfeit their right to be where God is. They make a conscious decision in favour of darkness where they believe they can be undisturbed in their desire to do evil (cf John 3:19).

So Hell would seem to be a dimension of reality beyond the boundaries of time and space and beyond the reach of those in Heaven (Luke 16:26). It is also a place that God himself chooses to turn his back on forever.

But if it is outside of God’s creation then how could anyone be there, since we ourselves are part of that creation? The Bible seems to teach that once a human spirit is created it is impossible to destroy. One can destroy the body but not the spirit or life force of the human. This is why nearly all the descriptions of hell in the Bible indicate that its inhabitants are painfully aware of their situation.

God has promised that he will create a new heaven and a new earth for his people, he makes no such provision for those that reject him, so the only ‘place’ for them is beyond his creation or the ‘outer darkness’.

The Bible teaches that Jesus himself went to hell but that his righteousness was such that Hell could not hold him against the will of God.

Jesus was not kidding when he taught that it was better to go into heaven with your eyes, arms and legs missing than to end up complete and completely in Hell (Matt 9:43-48).

Is this your last day on earth?

Very few people ever know their date of departure from this earth - God planned it that way so you wouldn't be silly enough to think you can ignore him up to the last moment.

When you get to your last day on earth will you realise it? Most people don’t. This earth is the only place you have ever been, death is not something you have done before and while you know in your head its coming, your heart finds it hard to believe. One reason for this is that God has planted eternity in our hearts so we are by nature and instinct, eternal beings who just know there is more to come.

The only people who can be reasonably sure that they are living their last day are those facing execution. In Jesus’ day the method of execution for non-Romans was crucifixion both painful and public.

Jesus likened the Christian walk to carrying one’s cross daily. It too is painful and public.

Carrying one’s cross is not overly burdensome or unreasonable but it does go against our grain because its all about putting to death our claims, our rights and every other pretension we have in our attitude towards God.

Jesus indicates that if you want the life he offers, you have to die the death he died. You cannot share in his resurrection unless you also share in his death and that means dying to your selfishness and rising to follow him.

The thing most people find hard to take is that you can’t carry your cross in secret. Jesus won’t have anything to do with people who want a private execution. The pain of carrying the cross is mostly that of letting go your concern for other’s opinions of you. You have to admit, firstly to yourself, that you need Jesus for salvation and then you have to admit it to others.

Jesus is no more interested in private friends who don’t want to be seen in public with him than you would be. That’s why he warns that he will be ashamed of you when he returns in glory if you are ashamed of him now.

The greatest risk is to think Jesus is joking.

The Son of God, has promised salvation to those who truly believe in him. I can have certainty of salvation because I can be certain that he does not lie or break promises. Therefore I can also say with certainty that those who don’t have faith will not be saved because that he has also promised. True faith is never simply an academic assent to a set of beliefs nor is the Gospel a password to get you into heaven it’s a way of life that begins here and continues in Heaven. It’s a belief in truth that brings about a total transformation of character.

Those who want to hold on to their life here will loose everything and this loss will be so devastating that even owning the whole world will in no way compensate for that loss. How stupid is it to loose everything when the only thing you held on to was your pride.

Contrary to what the health workers tell you, a good death is not one where you slip away painlessly, but one where you leave this world to be welcomed with open arms by Jesus knowing that you have done with death forever.

Who knows, you might live through this day, then again? In any case, knowing that some day in the future will be your last day, would it not seem wise and ultimately profitable to get serious with the one who offers eternal life now? Just in case? You wouldn’t dream of driving a new car out of the showroom without insurance because you know that this is a hazardous world. Its no less hazardous to human life which has got to be much more valuable than a new car.

Is God really a Loving God?

God is not a loving God if he keeps your eternal destiny a secret until after you've died, when its too late to do anything to change it.

People accuse God of being the chief cause of our problems and blame him for everything that goes wrong, but the worst thing they say about him is that he keeps the criteria for eternal life a secret until we are dead, when it’s too late for us to do anything about it.

They never put it that way of course, but when someone says you have to be good to get to heaven they are actually saying there is no way you can ever be sure of meeting God’s standards. If it’s goodness you need, then how good do you have to be? At what point have you made the grade?

Imagine how you’d feel being rejected eternally because of an old lady you didn’t help across the street or a busker’s hat you refused to drop a coin into. It would be worse than being one off a first prize in a lottery!

We expect those we love to make clear promises to us and stick to them. A groom does not say “I might’ or mumble something incomprehensible at his wedding, he says ‘I do’ – he makes a definite, unconditional promise because fundamentally love is about commitment and fidelity. No bride with self respect would expect anything less. You can’t be happy in a relationship where it’s impossible to know the rules of engagement. A person who keeps arbitrarily changing the rules is not a lover but a manipulator.

God is not like that. He has determined the criteria for salvation and communicated it to us clearly so no one need be in doubt. In addition he has also made it possible for you to meet those criteria. And here is the great news – once you have met the criteria God makes sure that you know you have. You can know for certain one way or the other where you stand with God and where you will spend eternity.

This is what the Bible is all about. In it God tells us firstly that he loves us like a father and wants us to be with him for ever. Then he tells us that the reason we are separated from him is that we are rebels who by nature don’t want him as God and do shameful and selfish things that deserve punishment. However, in his great love for us he came to earth as a man in the person of Jesus to show us just how much he loves us. Jesus then takes the blame and the punishment for what we have done – he settles our account for us so we can be friends with God. So we can now meet the criteria for salvation, not by being good but by trusting that Jesus was good and that he paid, once and for all, the price for our sin. Jesus didn’t come to help us earn salvation – he earns it for us!

All that God asks of you is that you accept that he has the right to rule his universe. Stop trying to pay your way into his heart by being good and accept his free gift of forgiveness and eternal life in a world that is worth living forever in. Ask him to help you to become one of his children and he’ll adopt you. Then he’ll connect you through his Spirit and convince you that you are adopted. Once adopted you will be good, not to earn his favour but because you really want to be. If you have any questions and have the courage to pursue – this website would be a good place to start.

Think Before Deciding To Take On God

Not everyone is pleased with God's choice of leaders, more often than not its the fact that he chose them that causes the most displeasure.

Moses was under attack again. This time it was Korah and 250 well known community leaders. Driven by a lust for power, they presented themselves before Moses demanding he justify his appointment as their leader. “We are all holy” he cries emboldened by the gang behind him, “So why do you set yourself above us?!”

Moses fell face down in horror then he warned them that they had just provoked God. He instructed them to turn up in the morning with their censors and await God’s judgement on the matter.

They weren’t happy! They berated Moses and Aaron for bringing them from the land of luxury to the desert. Nevertheless the 250 turned up next morning before the Tent of Meeting as instructed. God came to the tent in glory demanding that Moses and Aaron step aside and let him to put an end to the nation once and for all. They plead for mercy for those who weren’t personally involved and God graciously grants their petition.

However he is not about to let the instigators get away with their plot to overthrow his appointed government. So as soon as Moses has moved the people away from the tents of Korah and two of his senior henchmen, Dathan and Abirim the ground opens up and swallows them along with all their possessions. It was as if they had never existed. Then the 250 holding their censors before the tent were consumed by fire from Heaven. Judgment was swift, public and precise.

The people were terrified thinking that this was the end of them all, but by next morning their terror turned into self-righteous indignation. They were on Moses’ doorstep again accusing him of killing the Lord’s people.

What were they thinking? How is it that humans can be so terrified of upsetting idols that can do nothing, yet stand brazen before a God who can shake the very foundations of the earth? These are the people who will seek to kill a man for being raised from the dead and then actually kill the one who raised him.

Anyway God had really had a gutful and sent a plague through the whole nation which would have wiped them all out entirely had not Aaron run through the huge assemble with his censer burning, to make atonement for them. The plague stopped, but only after 14,700 people had died.

How do you handle this? I was talking to someone recently who said he was Christian but had no time for the Old Testament because he could not believe in the God that existed back then. “He was far too tough and too brutal”; he said. He’s inadvertently joined the ranks of the brazen Israelites.

We humans have an incredible knack for making out that we are more compassionate and gracious than God. We seem to forget that the fairest thing God could have done is to wipe out the whole human race and have done with us forever. We can be thankful that God is not into human fairness, but grace. Part of that grace is expressed in his willingness to give us a forewarning of the consequences of rejecting his right to rule.

As Paul says “It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance”. God finds no joy in the death of a sinner but we can be thankful that he takes upon himself the onerous task of removing those that would endanger the lives of his people. How do you feel about God displaying his judgment here on earth? You can be thankful or incensed depending on how quickly you learn your lessons in life.

Never Give up

Spiders never give up because they have short memories. Humans have long memories of failure but Christians have every reasons to see God as their reason for never giving up.

‘ I spied a spider climbing by his webb to the height of an trie and at 12 several times I perceived his web broke, and the spider fel to the ground. But the 13 tyme he attempted and clambe the tree”

The above story is attributed to Sir James the Black in David Hume’s biography. However it is very similar to a story in Sir Walter Scott’s account of the life of Robert the Bruce. The moral however is the same; “If first you don’t succeed try again”

The reason a spider will keep at it till he succeeds (or dies) is probably because he has a short memory he thinks that each attempt is his first so he’s not put off by the previous failures. It would be good to be able to forget past failures and disappointments but sadly they so often plague our attitude towards everything we do and create in us a desire to give up or not even try.

I think this is why we are often so hesitant about sharing our faith. Jesus warned us that it would be a painstaking, frustrating business requiring lots of practise, prayer and perseverance. He also taught us that it was a team effort some would sow with tears, others would reap with joy.

I am particularly encouraged by his story about the persistent widow (Luke 17). She really had her work cut out for her. She wanted justice and could only appeal to a hopelessly corrupt judge who cared nothing for her or for justice. He had no respect for God nor it seems, did he care what men thought of him. It went without saying that he had little compassion for the less fortunate like this widow.

The point is that there was not the slightest good in him that she could appeal to. All she could do was to be an irritation that he had to eventually remove, and he did. She got her justice by simply becoming a pain in his neck that he got so tired of that he had to give her the justice she deserved.

By way of contrast, Jesus reminds us that God loves justice and he loves his children and we now know that he loved so much that he allowed his own dear Son to die right in front of his eyes on an appalling cross for them. He hardly needs convincing to do what is right and he is unlikely to need instructions on compassion.

So we don’t need to wheedle or annoy him into helping us. He will come quickly when we call upon him. However he does encourage us to be persistent in prayer for those that we love and for those that we want to see in the kingdom. He also wants us to pray for justice which is much the same as praying for Jesus’ return and the end of evil.

Perseverance in prayer is the thing that keeps us dependant on God and that constant dependence will be the only thing that will ensure that there will be faith on earth when Jesus returns. Spiders keep at it because they don’t know any better, we keep at it because we do.

Baby Talk

If you want to have a meaningful converstaion to dogs and children you have to talk down to them. We shouldn't do that with God, he is much more intellegent than we are

One of the things that differentiates humans from animals is that we have the capacity for real language. That means we can arrange sounds into words and words into complex sentences to communicate both concrete and abstract ideas. Another thing we have that animals don’t is the ability to envisage things that don’t actually exist; we can see a tree and imagine a table, or a lump of clay and imagine beautiful pottery or even a piece of silicon and imagine an incredibly complex electronic device capable of processing huge amounts of data.

Humans are also given a sense of the supernatural a suspicion that everything that is visible is the product of something that isn’t. Most even go as far as to believe that the things they cannot see might be more significant that the things they can. We must all have a sense of a significant other or a point at which we have no choice but to evoke the infinite or eternal. Without this one cannot develop a framework for understanding our origins and purpose.

The ancients thought the earth floated on water held in a basin supported by huge foundations and the sky or firmament was a dome that covered the world and housed the stars. But they had no idea, or perhaps they purposely forgot, what held the whole thing up. What were these foundations resting on, what lies beyond the dome and who put it all together in the first place?

Mysteries like these can provide breeding grounds for all kinds of unhealthy speculation, manipulation and fearful superstition. The priests of every nation got the top jobs and made a packet out of people by convincing them that the sky would fall in, the sun would stop shining or the sea would cover the land unless significant sacrifices and payments were made to the various gods who controlled these things. A bit like the eight billion dollars of tax-payers money given to science to build an accelerator to recreate the big bang. The Bible’s creation story did little to correct our understanding of the nature of the physical universe but it did correct our understanding about the creator and sustainer of that universe and it told us why he bothered in the first place. In one page of beautiful literature we get answers to the all the big questions that really matter for eternity and most of them were questions we were afraid to ask.

That page also tells us why we find ourselves unfinished or incomplete unless we are in touch with that significant other and it also explains why we are all religious especially those that try their hardest to be secular. We were created in our creator’s image and he did that so he could have significant others to share the universe with. The problem is that we wanted to find significance without him whilst doing our best to connect and find a sense of completion with a significant other of our own making.

What gives us away is the kind of conversations we end up having with these self made gods of ours. Don’t be surprised if our prayers sound like baby talk or repetitious ranting. After all the god we create can never be as intelligent as we are he needs to have things explained to him in monosyllabic words and since he has a poor memory he needs to be told the same prayers all the time in case he forgets. Jesus went to pains to remind us that prayer was not to be viewed as some mantra to get access to a computer but intelligent, sincere words that assumed we were talking to someone who is at least as intelligent as we are.

So many books on prayer these days are like Golfing magazines- full of tips on how to improve your score and impress your mates. They all seem to forget that our God is a heavenly father who actually loves his children and is far more interested in their genuine love than he is in their technique.

Who Wrote the Quran?

A very short survey of the origins of the major Muslim religious documents.

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is a collection of messages, virtually dictated, to Muhammad by God through the Archangel Gabriel, over about 23 years. Muslims believe this is the only miracle that can be attributed to Muhammad that a illiterate man could write such a book.

His illiteracy is questionable for a start; as he lay on his death bed he ordered writing materials to record some last instructions to his followers to prevent apostasy after his death.

It is hard to believe that his wife Khadijah, a wealthy educated women with whom Muhammad was married for 25 years would not have taught him to read and write.

The Qur’an is a book of 114 chapters (Surah), each having a number of verses (Ayahs), the numbers of which are not consistent across all editions. In addition there is considerable debate about the true number of verses in the Qur’an (from 6,000 to 6,236). One of the most frustrating things about the book is that it is not arranged chronologically or by subject matter, but according to the length of its chapters. This makes it impossible to create a chronology, historical context or even a situational context for the things that Muhammad says in the Qur’an without going to very unreliable external sources.

One of these sources are biographies of Muhammad.- the earliest being the works of Ibn Ishak some 120 years after the prophet’s death in 632 AD. Since most of this work was destroyed, we have to rely on a later biographer, Ibn Hisham, writing some 80 years later to discover what Ibn Ishak wrote or might have wrote.

Contrast this with the Christian Gospels that were all written within 30 years (or earlier) of the death of Jesus by those that were eye witnesses or close friends of the eye witnesses.

This lack of a context is particularly problematical because of the Doctrine of Abrogation which says that if one verse of the Qur’an contradicts another, something that happens all too frequently, then one must take the most chronologically recent verse.

There are also other biographical works that Muslims use which are much later and often portray a very different Muhammad than the earlier work.

Then there’s the Hadiths; these are collections of sayings based on oral traditions handed down by the ‘companions’, or companions of the companions of Muhammad. There are three main types of Hadith: the things the Prophet said, the things the prophet did and the things the prophet approved in others.

Hadiths are used to clarify and add to the Qur’an which means that many of the laws we find in Islam such as those specifying dress codes and female circumcision are only found in the Hadiths. Most of the Hadiths were assembled into book form 250-300 years after Muhammad and required considerable culling.

For example the earliest and most quoted of the Hadith collections are by Bukhari who reduced 600,000 traditional sayings down to 7,397 Hadiths some 247 years after the death of the Prophet.

The earliest date we have for a written down collection of sayings is 100 years after Muhammad’s death. It goes without saying that there is considerable inconsistency within the collections of Hadiths as well as with the things attributed to Muhammad in the Qur’an.

Contrary to what most Muslims believe, Muhammad did not leave a complete Qur’an at the end of his life but a loose collection of writings strewn over his empire.

The final product was put together about 18 years after his death by Uthman ibn Affan from all kinds of sources and writing materials including bones, leaves, portions of animal skins and the memories of the ‘companions’. One later redactor, Ali Haccac burned nearly all the versions of the Qur’an other than his own, which meant that we have very little with which to check the accuracy of his work. Its not surprising to discover a good deal of debate among Muslims as to who has the most faithful copy of the Qur’an.

In spite of the book’s chequered history, Muslems claim as an essential doctrine of their faith that the Qur’an is an exact copy of the “Qur’an in Heaven” – the book that Allah himself dictated ward for word through Gabriel to Muhammad.

This is different to the Bible which we believe was inspired by God without in anyway usurping the human writer’s style. Grammatical errors and various idiosyncrasies are expected here but not in a work that was penned by God himself.

They also claim that it was all written in the purest language of Heaven, namely Arabic. However, the work is full of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, direct borrowings from other languages, and as I have mentioned before, incredible inconsistencies.

Many Arabic scholars agree that there are clearly two Qur’ans – meaning that the quality of the Arabic in the earlier material is much higher than that of the later. One suspects that Muhammad may have become literate later in life but still lacked the style of the earlier author who may well have been his first wife.

It is also full of very embarrassing mistakes. For example it tells us that Mary (Jesus’ mother) was Aaron’s sister and Moses’ sister in law, because the Arabic for Mary is the same as that for Miriam. That would suggest that the virgin birth was not nearly as big a miracle as a woman nearly 3,000 years old giving birth to a son.

Could God be the author of the Qur’an and the one who inspired the other religious books of Islam? I think it most unlikely.