Progressive Revelation in Qur’an as in the Bible



How does one educate a child? You may rightly argue that this question is too general. Do you mean a toddler? Or a Primary School beginner? Or a teenager? A boy or a girl? A rural child on a farm or a city dweller? We do not teach a teenager as we would a toddler. There has to be a progressive education. It has to be adapted to the situation.

In the same way spiritual ‘education’ has to be adapted. Paul likewise uses a picture when he writes: “I gave you milk, not solid food.” (1 Cor. 3:2). Likewise we read in Hebrews 5:12: “You need milk, not solid food.” But it then explains: “Though you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you!” Solid food is for the mature, “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

And as it is with people, so it is with nations. Looking at history we find again and again how nations progress. There is a humble beginning, a development, a blooming of culture and influence and then, very sadly, a decline. So leading a nation rightly is to address the present situation. God in the Old Testament was the “leader” of Israel. Already Adam and Eve were led by Him, rather than forced! God spoke to the Patriarchs and made covenants with Abraham and Moses. These two covenants differ, for their situations were rather different, because some 500 years passed until the second was given. After another 1500 years, God offered the New Covenant and a totally new situation was then addressed. We call this progressive revelation. Now it was no longer just the Jews who entered the covenant relationship with God. The New Covenant was for all who desired to enter into it.

Is the Qur’an just another covenant – at first with the Arabs and now with all Muslims? To answer this question we will have to look at the content of the covenants. Are they progressive, or contradictory?

When Christ says in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,’ but I tell you do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39) or “you have heard that it was said: ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (vs.28). We cannot suppose contradiction.

It is a heightening of a standard. With maturity, expectations are raised.

The Qur’an, on the other hand, totally contradicts many fundamental truths of the Bible. That is not progressive. So it cannot come from the same source.

Not only does the Qur’an contradict the Bible, it contradicts itself. The Islamic doctrine of abrogation speaks for itself. Some verses which had been ‘revealed’ to Muhammad were cancelled within a few years (these are called ‘mansukh’ verses) and replaced by other ‘better ones’ (called ‘nasikh’ verses). The Qur’an confirms this doctrine: “When we abrogate one revelation for another – and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages), they say ‘thou art but a forger.'” (Surah 16:101; see also 2:106)

I think we have to agree with the critics of that time, “You are a forger.” If Allah knows best, then he would not have given a ‘revelation’ that needed replacing a few years, sometimes even minutes later.

Again we cannot speak of progressive revelation, for the abrogated and exchanged verses dealt not with issues limited by time, but with the direction of prayer, inheritance, laws for punishment of evil doers and ‘holy’ wars. We must, therefore, conclude that:

  1. The Qur’an is not a progressive part of the revelation as given in the Bible.
  2. In the short period of 23 years, during which the Qur’an was ‘revealed,’ there should and could have been no need for correction, as it actually happened.

But we may safely conclude that the progress of revelation in the Bible, which was revealed over 1500 years, cannot be assumed to be contradictory.