The Qur’anic Paternity Test: Attempting to Recognise our own Sons

Argument in a nutshell:

  • Premise A) The Qur’an says that the People of the Book ‘recognise [something] as clearly as they recognise their own sons’ (Q 2:146, 6:20). This is because of what their Scriptures say.
  • Premise B) The object of recognition could be the Prophethood of Muhammad, or the direction of prayer towards the holy city of Islam and the truth of unitarianism.
  • Premise C) The Torah and Gospel do not in fact say these things.
  • Conclusion) The Qur’an is mistaken.

Main article:

During my study of the Qur’an, I came across a couple of verses that I had never heard discussed in Muslim-Christian encounters. This is despite their great relevance to topics that lay at the heart of Muslim-Christian debate. The verses are as follows:

Q 2:146

ٱلَّذِينَ ءَاتَيْنَٰهُمُ ٱلْكِتَٰبَ يَعْرِفُونَهُۥ كَمَا يَعْرِفُونَ أَبْنَآءَهُمْ وَإِنَّ فَرِيقًا مِّنْهُمْ لَيَكْتُمُونَ ٱلْحَقَّ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ

lladhīna ātaynāhumu l‑kitāba yaʿrifūnahu ka‑mā yaʿrifūna abnāʾahum wa‑inna farīqan minhum la‑yaktumūna l‑ḥaqqa wa‑hum yaʿlamūna

Those We gave Scripture know it as well as they know their own sons, but some of them hide the truth that they know. (Abdel Haleem)

Q 6:20

ٱلَّذِينَ  ءَاتَيْنَٰهُمُ  ٱلْكِتَٰبَ  يَعْرِفُونَهُۥ  كَمَا  يَعْرِفُونَ  أَبْنَآءَهُمُ  ٱلَّذِينَ  خَسِرُوٓا۟  أَنفُسَهُمْ  فَهُمْ  لَا  يُؤْمِنُونَ

lladhīna ātaynāhumu l‑kitāba yaʿrifūnahu ka‑mā yaʿrifūna abnāʾahumu lladhīna khasirū anfusahum fa‑hum lā yuʾminūna

Those to whom We have given the Scripture know this as well as they know their own sons. Those who have lost their souls will not believe. (Abdel Haleem)

The object of recognition

Clearly the People of the Book (‘Those to whom We have given the Scripture’), i.e. Jews and Christians, are supposed to recognise something very clearly, as clearly ‘as they know their own sons’. But what is it that they are supposed to recognise?

The key pronoun is the attached suffix hu in yaʿrifūnahu (‘they recognise him/it’), which can mean either ‘him’ or ‘it’. Abdel Haleem favours ‘it’/’this’, while others understand hu to mean ‘him’, i.e. Muhammad. Numerous translations supporting both perspectives can be found here for Q 2:146, and here for Q 6:20. The Study Quran (2015, 66) finds both views amongst the commentators; al-Ṭabarī thinks that ‘it’ refers to the Kaʿbah being the correct qiblah (direction of prayer) (cf. the broader context of vv. 142-152), while al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1272) and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210) think that ‘he’ is a reference to Muhammad as prophet. Commenting specifically on yaʿrifūnahu in Q 2:146 Muqātil (d. 767 CE) writes: ‘I.e. they recognise al-bayt al-ḥarām that it is the qiblah’ (my translation of أى يعرفون البيت الحرام أنه القبلة).

Though I favour understanding hu in Q 2:146 to refer to the direction of prayer being towards al-masjid al-ḥarām, as I have argued at length elsewhere, for our purposes I believe it does not matter too much. I believe that whichever interpretation one adopts, there are serious problems:

  1. Hu refers to the direction of prayer being towards al-masjid al-ḥarām. How are Jews and Christians supposed to clearly know this? Where does the Torah or the Gospel teach this?
  2. Hu refers to recognising Muhammad. Due to the context (vv. 142-152), ‘those to whom We gave the scripture’ are meant to recognise Muhammad due to the harmony between his teaching and their scriptures on the direction of prayer. See the problem with this in point 1 above.
  3. Hu refers to recognising Muhammad. This is not connected to the surrounding context (vv. 142-152), it has a different occasion of revelation. This seems like an odd intrusion given the continuity in subject before and after. Furthermore, based on what scriptures do Jews and Christians clearly recognise Muhammad, as clearly as they recognise their own sons? See more on this below.

The context of Q 6:20 is somewhat different to that of Q 2:146; the early verses of Surah 6 speak of the truth of (Islamic unitarian) monotheism, the foolishness of idolatry, the reality of final judgement and the Prophethood of Muhammad. In light of these themes hu could be understood as:

  1. ‘It’/’this’, referring to the truth of (Islamic unitarian) monotheism and the foolishness of idolatry. But the Torah and the Gospel paint a more nuanced picture of monotheism, the former perhaps hinting at (e.g. Genesis 1:2, 26; 19:24; Exodus 23:20-21) and the latter teaching that God is more than unipersonal (e.g. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 2:7-12, 14:61-64; John 1:1, 14, 18). See further materials on this below. How then can the Qur’an suggest that Jews and Christians recognise Islamic unitarian monotheism as clearly as they recognise their own sons?
  2. ‘Him’, referring to Muhammad as prophet. Due to the surrounding context, ‘those to whom we gave the Scripture’ are meant to recognise Muhammad due to the harmony between his teaching and their scriptures on (Islamic unitarian) monotheism. See the problem with this in point 1 above.
  3. ‘Him’, referring to Muhammad as prophet. This is not connected to the surrounding context, it has a different occasion of revelation. This seems like an odd intrusion given the continuity in subject before and after. Furthermore, based on what scriptures do Jews and Christians clearly recognise Muhammad, as clearly as they recognise their own sons? See more on this below.

Recognising Muhammad

This is not the place to discuss the classical texts appealed to by Muslims to find Muhammad in the Bible (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:15-18, Song of Solomon 5:16), a necessary endeavour in light of Q 7:157 and Q 61:6, wherein we are told that the coming of Muhammad is predicted by Jesus (Q 61:6), and at the time of Muhammad he is still found ‘described in the Torah that is with them, and in the Gospel’ (Q 7:157, Abdel Haleem). Interestingly Q 2:146 and Q 6:20 are not often appealed to with regard to this topic. Those who wish to watch Muslim-Christian debates on this topic can check out James White’s debates with Zakir Hussain and Shabir Ally.

Particularly interesting is the approach taken by Shabir Ally in his 2016 debate with David Wood on “What Is the Quran’s View of the Christian Scriptures?”. Speaking on Q 7:157, Ally says:

[34:38] The important thing I wanted to point out is the statement whom they find, whom they find. You will notice that this statement is not so much directed at Muslims…it is saying that this is what the People of the Book will find, those who have been reading the Bible, they will find Muhammad mentioned there. Now this passage has created a lot of confusion in the minds of people who think…that they’re supposed to find Muhammad mentioned, for example, by name, and that there should be some very clear and indisputable indications about him in the previous scriptures. But to me, this is not what the Qurʾan is saying. The Qurʾan, to me, in this passage is calling on Jews and Christians to use the interpretative methods with which they are already familiar to see if those interpretative methods will point them towards Muhammad as it has already pointed the Christians…to Jesus. …they have used typology… they use the idea of the fuller sense of scripture, something is there, but it would not have been understood at the time…they use also midrash…they use an interpretative method known as pesher, where they take Jesus as he is and then go back into the Old Testament to see if perhaps there is some sort of indication, no matter how vague…to me, the Qurʾan is asking Jews and Christians, use these methods…’ (emphasis original)

I wonder if Shabir Ally, whose integrity and excellent demeanour I respect, takes this more flexible approach because he is aware that the classic proof-texts for prophecies of Muhammad are not especially convincing? My challenge to Shabir Ally and similarly sophisticated Muslim thinkers is that such a subtle approach, attempting to defend the truth of Q 7:157, falls foul of Q 2:146 and Q 6:20 if such verses are indeed about the Prophet. These verses suggest the clarity with which the subject can be found; as clearly as someone recognising their own son. If these verses are not about the Prophet, then other issues arise as discussed above.

My Muslim friends, how do you understand Q 2:146 and Q 6:20? Let me know in the comments below.

(If you cannot see the comments box you are still on the blog overview page – click on the blog title to access the specific blog page)

7 thoughts on “The Qur’anic Paternity Test: Attempting to Recognise our own Sons

  1. Pingback: Nineteen angels in the Bible? (Q 74:30-31) - Steelman Apologetics

  2. Mohammad Amin

    Hi Steelman Apologetics!
    As a lapsed Muslim, I would love to put some unrelated but more personally interesting question to you. What do you make of much of the “creative” biblical exegesis that the early Christians had to come up with to fit Jesus with the Judaic Messiah? I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
    What do you make of New testament’s misunderstanding of Hebrew bible?
    See the link below:
    What do you make of the metamorphosis of Jewish Christianity into what we today call Christianity?
    Isn’t all this sufficient evidence that Christianity too (like all other “Divinely Revealed” religions) is just a collection of vicious lies based on man-made tall tales of illiterate people who lived in an age of ignorance?

    1. steelmanapologetics Post author

      Hi Mohammad,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read the article 🙂

      Great question – I am doing an article on this, on ‘creative biblical exegesis’, as we speak (I’ve just been writing a few preparatory articles first). So stay tuned!

      On Hebrews 10:5, yeah that’s a great question. Perhaps ‘body’ is the original reading. Perhaps Hebrews is following a textual mistake, perhaps fortuitiously under the providence of God (i.e. God can speak through a textual mistake), or perhaps the authors message is inspired (i.e. the author of Hebrews speaks theological truth) even if using a mistranslation. Guthrie (977) in Carson and Beale (2007) in their ‘Commentary on the NT use of the OT’ seems to follow Jobes (1992) in suggesting that Hebrews makes ‘stylistically motivated adjustments to OT quotations’, so as to ‘achieve phonetic assonance’ between soma de and ‘the final three syllables of holokautomata’. Perhaps this was deemed acceptable in light of the theological truth it conveyed, i.e. this change legitimately reflects teaching found in other OT passages. Perhaps the phrases are actually somewhat similar in meaning:

      The LXX translates the Hebrew “my ears you have opened” with this intended sense in mind. The open ear and the yielded body both signify obedience to the will of God. Is this an example of dynamic equivalence at work in translation? It is indeed if the intent is to communicate the concept of obedient service implied in the term “ear.”

      Allen, D. L. (2010). Hebrews (p. 496). Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group.

      Allen actually agrees with Jobes but I think it’s still an interesting suggestion. In which case Jesus fulfills the substantial point about a submissive person being better than animal sacrifice; indeed, he even fulfills the ‘dynamic equivalence’ too!

      An important difference between the LXX and the Hebrew text of Psalm 40:6, however, is LXX’s a body you prepared for me for “my ears you have pierced” (lit., “ears you have dug [opened] for me”). The LXX translator apparently understood an allusion to the creation of Adam in the words “ears you have dug for me,” for in the sculpting of a body from clay, ears must be dug out. Thus he translated the expression from Hebrew idiom into language that would more readily be understood in the Hellenistic world: a body you prepared for me.

      Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (p. 154). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

      Do check out my upcoming article which touches on this issue of how the NT uses the OT.

      Paul’s particular reconstruction of Jewish Christianity is debatable. I have never really heard Paul take much into account the ‘Early High Christology club’, i.e. recent scholars like Hurtado and Bauckham who stress that the exaltation of Jesus took place in very early, Jewish circles. Dunn, who sees certain stages of development within NT Christology, has a reading of Phillippians 2 which I believe most scholars reject. I would also be interested to know Paul’s views on people like Segal, Boyarin, Barker and Sommer whose work suggests that Judaism and the OT is not quite as antithetical to Christian views about Jesus as many would think. I find it interesting reading the NT, and Paul’s bitter arguments with the Judaizers, that the issue is over circumcision and the keeping of the law, not over the divinity of Jesus; it just doesn’t seem to be an issue with them. The Christological controversy that we do find seems (e.g. 1 John) seems to be those verging on gnosticism, not those who think Jesus is only a man. Everywhere I look in the NT, broadly speaking our earliest documents (possible exceptions being things like 1 Clement and the Didache), I see an exalted view of Jesus. So these are some reasons why I don’t buy this idea of an original ‘Jewish Christianity’, whatever one means by that (after all, its generally thought that virtually or all the NT writers were Jewish), with a low Christology.

  3. Mohammad Amin

    Thanks for your reply, although I can’t say It was particularly convincing! I’m sure you have some personal reason to hold tight to your beliefs but these mental gymnastics can only convince someone who’s already convinced about jesus.
    As for me, this way of thinking really leads nowhere, because if we can call the hebrews affair, a miracle of divine providence(!), then one should imagine, I presume, that when jesus claims in the Gospels that he has cured a deaf man by casting out a “mute demon”( Luke 11-14 to 27) he is, by divine providence of course, under the illusion that deafness can be caused by demons, whatever divinely provided illusion they themselves maybe!
    If we can come this far then I suppose it doesn’t hurt to add that jesus’s understanding of the scriptural value of the book of daniel which as per most rigorous biblical criticism is a pseudonymous ahistorical 2nd century document pretending to retell real stories about a 6th century jew named Daniel is just another “fortuituos” mistake of our beloved jesus which under his own providence of course was under the illusion that this book’s prophecies can be taken seriously because it’s history (including the “Darius the mede” part) is so spot-on that it totally isn’t obvious that it’s a manufactured piece of political propaganda aimed at jews of its time that had nothing to do with jesus’s time.
    You see?
    If you want to create a good christian you should first convince them that Gospels can/should be taken seriously, which itself entails proving that the fall and Garden of Eden stories should be taken seriously, plus exodus, stories of moses, David etc plus prove that prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel are credible historical reports, plus fantastic events like the miracles of the Gospels are reliably transmitted facts (which they clearly don’t seem to be because for example Paul doesn’t know a thing about virgin birth and the Gospels themselves differ substantially on different matters and some of their miracle reports just seem desperate attempts to fit jesus with Messianic hopes of jewish people)
    Oh, before I forget, you also need to prove demons do exist and cause deafness and other ailments!
    So good luck with all that!

    My sources( for people interested to fact-check):
    1) Wikipedia, book of daniel entry:
    2) Bible
    3) common sense!

    Your website is really informative for ex-muslims who wish to grow in their Yaqeen یقیین (conviction) about their apostasy, and as prophet muhammad peace be upon him said: nothing that enters a faithful man’s heart is better than Yaqeen!
    But I don’t think by helping muslims shake off their deadly superstitions, you can achieve much in the way of your missionary work. I’m afraid I have to say, Muslims who truly appreciate your work, are on route of becoming atheists or deists at best, but not christians!

  4. steelmanapologetics Post author

    Hi Mohammad Amin,

    Fair enough – I fully accept that the exegesis I gave on Hebrews was from a faith-perspective, that is trying to be charitable to the text. Christian presuppositions about the inerrancy of the text do change how we approach it. I can understand that there are bits of scripture that it will be easier for a non-Christian to just say is mistaken. 2 Peter 3:16 accepts that Paul’s writings can be hard to understand, and I think this applies to Hebrews too. So basically I kind of agree with your first paragraph.

    Yeah I think scripture does think that deafness can be caused by demons, and that’s something I need to affirm. I would say, for what its worth, that many people, Christian, non-Christian, other faiths, etc., do attest to the reality of negative spiritual forces and the havok they can cause.

    For what it’s worth I’ve done biblical studies at a secular university; I say that not to boast, but to say I do understand the methodology of secular scholars and why they come to the conclusions that they do. I can completely understand why Daniel would be dated to the 2nd century BCE (because the ‘prophecy’ suddenly goes wrong when predicting the end of Antiochus Epiphanes’ career, from vv. 36 onwards). I would say there are preterist responses to this, either trying to say it could apply to Antiochus Epiphanes or by saying that ‘the king’ in v. 36 (not ‘the king of the north’) means that we are shifting further along the story to the famous ‘the king’, king Herod. I do not necessarily expect a non-Christian to grant this much charity to the text; it may be easier just to say the text is wrong. As an example of a preterist approach –

    I would also say that even if Deutero-Isaiah isn’t by Isaiah or Daniel isn’t actually by the portrayed figure of the Babylonian Exile, this doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t true prophecies within them. Goldingay takes this approach – Summary of the issues here –

    On Paul and the Virgin Birth, I don’t think there’s any particular occasion where he would have to mention it. But Galatians 4:4-5 is interesting – why state that he was ‘born of a woman’; this could just be a way of saying he’s human (e.g. Job 14:1; cf. F. F. Bruce), or maybe its the kind of thing someone who believed in the Virgin Birth would say. Paul’s general view of the divinity and pre-existence of Christ certainly makes the Virgin Birth very appropriate (i.e. the Son incarnates in Mary’s womb of free choice, rather than as a natural result of procreation).

    Obviously you mention a ton of issues I can’t respond to here, though I appreciate what you’re saying which is there are a lot of intellectual issues to work through. I typically talk to Muslims rather than atheists, though I’m glad to have you here on my website, but whether I talk to a Muslim or an atheist I would say that every worldview has problems, but which worldview can best answer the big problems: Do we have a moral sense of right and wrong? If so from where? Do we believe the universe had an origin of time and matter and space? If so, who or what is the uncaused cause of the universe? Why do a number of eminent scientists marvel at the apparent fine tuning of our universe? Why are there such problems with naturalistic theories for the origins of life? For me, these big questions point towards theism. And then for Christianity specifically – I have the moral sense that I’m a sinner who needs God’s forgiveness, and that the Gospel is amazing news. I believe there is strong historical evidence using the ‘minimal facts argument’ for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead ( – God used this book to help save my faith at uni), and I believe he fulfills both specificic prophecies (e.g. Isaiah 53, Daniel 9:25; Zechariah 12:10, 13:1; Micah 5:2, etc) and broad themes from the OT (about sin, fall, the need for redemption and atonement, the need for God himself to lead his people).

    The Bible absolutely has difficult passages, but to me Christianity and the Bible convince me on the big issues. To me Islam has too many fundamental self-contradictions, at a deeper level than I see in the Bible.

    I do appreciate your feedback about the need to defend the Bible – maybe I’ll do that one day, but, truth be told, I believe in division of labour – I’ve got my specialism, and other people have theirs.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback, I mean that – please do continue to provide feedback if you are able!

  5. Pingback: New YT video: 'The Qur'anic Paternity Test: Attempting to Recognise our own Sons (Q 2:146, 6:20) - Part One' - Steelman Apologetics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *