An Islamic commentary of the Gospel of Mark – Part I (Chapter 1: Verses 1-8)

Azhar Goraya, Missionary Puerto Rico

Chapter 1: Verse 1

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The writer of the gospel is not identified; neither in the beginning nor in any other place in the gospel. Nevertheless, Christian tradition attributes the authorship of the gospel to John Mark, a disciple of Paul and Barnabas, who supposedly wrote the gospel based on the recollections of the apostle Peter. The earliest traditional date given for the writing of the gospel is 64-65 CE, making it the earliest of the four gospels.

In contrast with this gospel, the Holy Quran begins with, “In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.” It clearly identifies the architect of the revelation as God Himself. The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa was the Messenger of God whose mission was to convey that revelation of God to his people. The revelation of the Quran itself was safeguarded in both memory and written form from the beginning. It was protected and accessible to all the companions of Prophet Muhammadsa, even during his life.

The gospel’s author does not go on to provide a summary of what exactly is the good news regarding Jesus Christ. Instead, he cites a passage from the Old Testament that speaks about the advent of a prophet, then goes on to speak about John the Baptist, and thereafter, the baptism of Jesus. We do not learn about the life or message of Jesus until much later.

In contrast, the Quran opens with a full summary of the entire Holy Quran in the form of Surah al-Fatiha, a short chapter of seven verses that contains in brief the entire message of the Quran. Each verse, though brief, contains a wealth of meanings.

The author refers to Jesus as the “Son of God”, however, this phrase is missing in several ancient manuscripts. In the original Greek, there was no difference between capital and lowercase letters. Referring to Jesus as the “Son” in capital letters is thus a theological bias, one that is done in an effort to differentiate between the sonship of Jesus and that of other individuals, such as David (Psalms 2:7) and Solomon (2 Samuel 7:14), or classes of people, such as judges, prophets (Psalms 82:6) and even the people of Israel (Jeremiah 31:20). Nevertheless, Jesus never claimed to be a literal son of God and, in fact, hardly ever referred to himself by the title, preferring in many places the title “son of man”. In John 10:30-38, Jesus explains he only ever used the term metaphorically for himself.

The Holy Quran has clarified that those individuals others refer to as “sons” of God are in fact His servants and it is against the dignity and perfection of God to have a son (Surah al-Anbiya, Ch.21:V.27). Mammals have sons through sexual reproduction, a necessity for the continuation of the species. Claiming that God had a literal son does not make sense, as that would imply God is incomplete in that He has a female consort, that He feels sexual desire, and that at some point in the future, He will cease to exist, which is why He felt compelled to reproduce, God forbid.

Chapter 1: Verses 2-3

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way;

3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

    make his paths straight,’”

It is curious how the author refers to such prophecies in the Old Testament as evidence of the coming of Jesus when Jesus himself never referenced them. If Jesus himself is never documented as having claimed these prophecies were about his advent, how can we accept them as being so, based on the opinion of the author?

The above prophecy does not exist in the Old Testament, at least not as a single quote. It is a tapestry of two or perhaps three passages from the Old Testament. The first part of the “sending of a messenger” coincides with Malachi 3:1, the rest of it coincides with Isaiah 40:3, although with some modifications. It seems that the gospel writers appropriated Old Testament passages and interpreted them in new ways that coincided with their belief in Jesus. This seems to be the rule – not the exception – with the use of Old Testament passages in the New Testament. The writers did not seem to be much concerned with carefully referencing and demonstrating the validity of their claims.  

This does not mean, however, that we deny the existence of prophecies regarding the Judaic Messiah in the Old Testament. This is also affirmed by the Holy Quran, for instance, in Surah al-Maidah, Ch.5: V.47:

وَقَفَّيْنَا عَلَىٰ آثَارِهِم بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ ۖ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْإِنجِيلَ فِيهِ هُدًى وَنُورٌ وَمُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَهُدًى وَمَوْعِظَةً لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ

“And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, fulfilling that which was [revealed] before him in the Torah; and We gave him the gospel, which contained guidance and light, fulfilling that which was [revealed] before it in the Torah, and a guidance and an admonition for the God-fearing.” (Surah al-Maidah, Ch.5: V.47)

It is thus possible these prophecies and others were understood as applying to the advent of the Messiah amongst certain circles of the Jews.

Prepare the way of the lord: The term “lord” does not have to refer to Jesus. It could mean that John was preparing the way for God to be manifested on earth through the advent of the Messiah, a human prophet. Every prophet of God becomes a means for the manifestation of God on earth. Even if we do apply the term to Jesus, the actual word in Greek is Kurios, and could be interpreted as meaning “master” or “leader” instead of God. It has also been used to refer generally to one to whom obedience is due (1 Peter 3:6). Thus, whether we apply the term to Jesus or God, the result is the same: Jesus was a human prophet of God sent to do God’s work on earth. He was not divine.

Chapter 1: Verse 4

4 John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 

John the Baptist is depicted as the harbinger of Jesus. He was a prophet who lived an ascetic life in the wilderness. Many people accepted him as a prophet and his baptism for the remission of sin. Jesus declared him as the prophesied second advent of Elijah. (Matthew 11:14) He was arrested by Herod and killed because of his criticism of Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law, Herodias. (Matthew 14:1-12)

The advent of John the Baptist before Jesus and his importance is also referenced in the Holy Quran, mainly in refuting the claim that Jesus was divine. Like Jesus, his birth was also foretold and communicated to his parents, in this case through his father Zakariah, through the agency of an angel. (Surah Aal-e-‘Imran, Ch.3: V.40) His birth was also miraculous in that God cured his mother of her barrenness and allowed her to conceive. He is described as having been granted wisdom, knowledge and righteousness while still a youth. (Surah Maryam, Ch.19: V.13)

The baptism in and of itself was not sufficient for the forgiveness of sin. As the passage states, it was a “baptism of repentance.” Those who wished to participate in it or receive it first had to repent of their evil deeds. The physical aspect of being submerged in or sprinkled with water was only a symbolic demonstration of the inner process of purification that must first be realised for one to be forgiven of sin.

The Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, has written that there are three steps to true repentance. A person must first visualise the evil deed they have committed as something extremely heinous that generates revulsion upon contemplating it. Next, they must feel true shame and anxiety upon having done such a deed. The final step is that a person must firmly resolve to never commit that action again and to follow through with this conviction. (Malfuzat, Vol. 1, pp. 135-136). This is sincere repentance, which the Holy Quran refers to as taubat-un-nasuha in Surah at-Tahrim, Ch.66: V.9, which brings with it true forgiveness from Allah.

Chapter 1: Verse 5

5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

It is possible people were not openly confessing their sins, but rather keeping them in mind or confessing them silently before God prior to their baptism.

Certain Christian denominations have the habit of confessing their sins before others. This is especially common in Catholicism, where believers confess their sins before a priest and are thereafter absolved of their sins. Islam teaches sins should not be openly professed. Allah states He does not like the uttering of unseemly speech in public (Surah an-Nisa, Ch.4: V.149). He is also as-Sattar, the One Who covers the shortcomings of His servants. If God has hidden a person’s defects and errors, what does revealing them to other human beings achieve? It is better to confess sins in private before God and seek His forgiveness.

Chapter 1: Verse 6

6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

John’s clothing was simple, especially in contrast with the Jewish clergy, who paraded around in fancy and expensive clothing. His clothing was similar to Elijah’s, who is said to have been clothed in a ragged, goat-haired garment (2 Kings 1:8). His food was also characteristic of his simple lifestyle in the wilderness.

Chapter 1: Verses 7-8

7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

The immediate reference in his words is to the coming of the Messiah. John, being the harbinger of the Messiah, was informing the Jews that Jesus was superior to him in rank and in the importance of his mission. This is also confirmed by a hadith of the Prophet Muhammadsa. During the spiritual journey Mi‘raj, he said he saw Jesus occupy a higher place in heaven than John.

John, baptising with water and Jesus with the Holy Spirit refers to the difference in their spiritual capacities and ability to reform their followers. As it were, Jesus, being of higher spiritual faculties, was declared to be able to purify his followers through the special agency of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Quran presents the companions of Jesus as especially reformed individuals who were honoured with divine inspiration. (Surah al-Maidah, Ch.5: V.112) This would not have been possible had they not been purified by Jesus.

Many Christians identify the Holy Spirit with the third part of the Trinity, the first two being God the father and Jesus the son. Nevertheless, there is no explicit evidence for the existence of a Trinity. The entire Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the history of the Jewish people refute the idea of a triune God in place of pure monotheism.

In this place, the Holy Spirit is a reference to the influence of the Archangel Gabriel, who is in charge of inspiring individuals with revelation and plays a part in their inner reformation. All prophets purify their followers through the agency of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus was no different. The Prophet Muhammadsa on many occasions would pray that the Holy Spirit helped his followers. Nevertheless, the influence of the Holy Spirit and its strength varies with each prophet according to their spiritual capacity.

Like Jesus was superior to John the Baptist, so too was the Holy Prophetsa superior to Jesus. In contrast to the moral and intellectual weaknesses displayed by the followers of Jesus, the companions of the Prophet Muhammadsa under his awesome influence, were elevated to the highest echelons of spiritual eminence, and under their influence, the Islamic world became a bastion of knowledge and light for the rest of the world for hundreds of years. 

This demonstrates that the Holy Spirit had a much deeper and more profound relationship with the Prophet Muhammadsa than it did with Jesus.

Click here for Part II

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