This is an ongoing discussion of an alternative
to the use
of the Islamic name "Isa" for Jesus
was with interest that I read the section of your book, Allah, Divine or Demonic,
pertaining to the use of the word 'Isa. Thank you for your diligence in the matter.
. I am a missionary working in _____________ among a Muslim people group called
the ________. A number of us attended a seminar and the leader had great reservations
about the use of the word Isa in translation and liturgy. What follows is a letter
that I drafted and a couple of responses.
In Him we live
First: A report on a conference, and
A response from a veteran Arabic radio broadcaster:
My letter on the report on the conference:
Report on conference
and follow-up letter that initiated the discussion
___________ and I among some 75 other [Christians] recently attended a conference
on Islam here in ________. The conference was organized by a mission of Muslims,
and they hosted the main speaker, named S_____ _____. He is with a ministry called
_________________. S________ made a thorough presentation on the structure and
practices of Islam, and his knowledge of Arabic gained while growing up in Lebanon
certainly was an asset. He showed both a deep love for Muslims, and made no bones
about the fact that Islam is a thoroughly systematic anti-Biblical, and anti-
One of the sessions that we had together was entitled, "Christ in the Qu'ran".
(S______ was following the material that he had previously published in a tract
and which will shortly appear in a website www.grace-and-truth.org).
In this session we touched on the subject of the use of the name "Si" as well
as the similarities and the differences of the concept of the Christ in the Bible
and the Qu'ran.
S________ is convinced that many missionaries have uncritically adopted this name
as an equivalent for Jesus, and he proceeded to show us that this might well contribute
to more confusion than clarity. How did he show this?
1. By showing the roots of the name of Jesus in Hebrew as being derived from "Yeshua
or Yehoshoua or Yahew who Saves" Thus Jesus is the Incarnation of the OT concept
of the God who Saves as per the name that the angel commanded in Matthew 1.21
...."he will save his people from their sins" This concept of the need for a Saviour
is foreign, of course, to the Qu'ran as a person "saves" themselves. Thus it is
no surprise that the Qu'ran does not reveal the name of Yaweh who saves, nor His
2. A study of the name of "Si" showed some alarming things. As much as the Muslim
associates the name "Si" in some way with Jesus, in actual fact it is not Jesus
in the sense of the above. Additionally, S_______ showed that in Arabic, a way
to denigrate someone is to turn their name around. Thus, he showed in Arabic script
how to write the name of Jesus, and if the letters are reversed, the result is
"Si". Also, he said that the word "Si" derived from the word, "ays" in Arabic,
and this denotes something that should be avoided, like poison.
To quote directly from his tract. p. 9
Christ neither died for our sins nor was raised for our justification...then Christ
for Muslims is also not our Savior. In my opinion this is the reason why Muslims
call Christ not "Jesus", like we do, but "Si" The word "Jesus", from its Hebrew
root, has the meaning: "the Lord saving" and thus designates the SAVIOR. Since
in Islam Christ is not saviour his savior-name had to be changed. The Arabic letters
of the word "Si" can be viewed as a grammatical inversion of the letters that
constitute the Arabic name of Jesus: "Yasu'u". Thus 'Isa is one manner in which
the Arabic name of Jesus can be pronounced from the end to the beginning of the
word. This circumstance possibly constitutes an indirect cursing of Jesus, for
during damnation rituals in Semitic cultures the name of an accursed person is
pronounced by inverting the order of the letters in his/her name. If this is the
case, then the very name of 'Isa would be an indication that Islam does not only
deny core teachings of Christianity but also spiritually fights against them."
One of the Christian brothers then asked the obvious question. What do you think
of using the name "Isa-al-Masiah" in the worship services and in the New Testament.
S______'s response was two-fold.
a. His personal opinion is that we are uncritically and perhaps unwittingly mixing
two opposing concepts-not unlike pressing on the accelerator and the brakes-at
the same time. On the one hand we are affirming the Christ and on the other hand
we are denigrating Jesus the Christ. It is his view that this can inevitably not
be profitable for a people who are called to "exalt his name, and magnify his
b. He suggested that we never underestimate the power of the Arabic language in
the Muslim mind. A common fault of attempts at contexualization is a superficial
understanding of Arabic and what it stands for. He strongly encouraged us to gain
a more profound knowledge of Arabic before adopting things that might have negative
ramifications. He showed for example, if Christians use the name "people of the
book" for their gatherings, they could well be known as Jews or Christians. The
distinction is not clear. Thus he suggested using the name of "ahl al-injil" to
give more clarity.
From this seminar, and with conversations with both K_______ and O_______, I would
like to make the following suggestions:
To look for creative ways to eliminate all use of the name "Si" in the New Testament.
look at creative ways to eliminate the use of this name in all the worship songs.
look at creative ways to eliminate the use of "Isa-al-Masiah" in prayers and to
teach the believers why it is important.
One suggestion might be to use the Arabic word for Jesus, namely "Yasu'u" and
perhaps "Yasu'u al-Masiah". Lots of food for thought. K________ told me that in
another nation nearby the NT does not use the name Isa and that perhaps it might
be an idea to check with them as to how they tackled the problem.
Thank you for your prayerful
consideration as we strive to "magnify the name above all names"
In Him for my F________ brothers.
from B____________ to my letter that I had copied.
Received your message during a very busy week attending and speaking at a conference
on missions to Muslims at the B_________________.
I have always been very critical of the use of the Qur'anic name given to our
Lord Jesus Christ. Thus I agree with the points that brother S________ has made.
and most convincing reason for refusing to use the name 'Issa is that it has no
meaning in Arabic. Every Arabic name has its root in a verb.
'Issa as a noun does not conform to the Arabic rules. It is meaningless. No theory
that tries to explain it is satisfactory.
Muhammad, a a noun, is derived from HMD (pronounced hamada) which means to praise.
Muhammad therefore means the one who is tremendously or greatly praised.
Biblical names have
meanings, and thus we must insist on the use of the name Yesu'a in all Islamic
languages. Yesu'a means Jehovah saves. Al-Massih is fine, as it means the Anointed
One. The question remains, anointed for what purpose, the Biblical answer is to
"save His people from their sins." Thus, the necessity of calling our Lord, Yesu'a
One of my contributions to the conference last week was to read at length from
Chapter X of Bishop Kenneth Cragg's "The Call of the Minaret." I am sending you
the portions I read and that dealt with the importance of INTERPRETATION. Please
share the info with your colleagues, but do not have many copies printed as the
material is copywriter by the Oxford University Press that published it back in
Reply from Mark D___________, Anglican Minister.
is also a senior associate of the Department of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics
at the University of _______________, with the honorary title of Associate Professor,
and was formerly head of the Department of Linguistics and Language Studies "Isa"
agree with the need to replace 'isa' with Yeshu'a. I would only use 'isa' in SPEAKING
with a Muslim in order to establish understanding, but make clear that his name
is Yeshu'a. ESPECIALLY in Biblical materials, songs and worship materials.
I don't agree with the
arguments about spelling the name of Jesus backwards. This is a red herring, and
insulting, and irrelevant, because I am aware of no original Islamic source that
that professes anything but respect for 'Isa'.
But otherwise - I agree with the move.
RESPONSE TO JOHN S__________________
Steve Van Nattan
of my complaints about Reformed churches over the centuries is that they held
to their creeds and the Word of God, but they stopped examining the present day
by the literal use of the Word of God and the mind of the Holy Spirit. You have
no idea how refreshing your zeal is to me. I praise God for the people around
you who are taking in hand to speak the holy name of Jesus Christ in truth.
In any case, I agree
100% with all of the people you quoted. I share the concern over the reversing
of the name "Isa" as a slur. I would say that the devout Muslim has no notion
of insulting Jesus or even Christians with that device. The secular Muslim, if
they meant it as an insult, is not who you will win to Christ anyway. The devout
Muslim believes something, so if you show him the truth about Islam, he will listen.
I find very few tales of salvation coming to dead beat secular Muslims. So, if
a brat Muslim uses "Isa" in mock, so what? That is not the critical issue.
As to the origin of
the word "Isa," that is interesting. I am aware that it is NOT an Arabic word,
and the verb discussion of your writer is brilliant reasoning. Mohammed traveled
with caravans for Khadijah, his employer and wife, all over the trade routes.
This would have taken him to Syria and Babylon, or its neighborhood, in his day.
In that area were the first Upanishads who later migrated to Iran and on to India.
They evolved into the Vedas and modern pagan Hinduism. The first of second Upanishad
class, who were monotheists, were called the Isa Upanishads. I believe Mohammed
got the word from the Syrian area, or even further east as a cavaneer.
Mohammed showed his
tolerance for paganism by selecting Allah, a pagan god from Sumer and Babylon,
and he showed his tolerance for pagan sources again when he let Allat, Manat,
and Al'Uzza into the Koran in the Satanic verses. Why would we imagine he would
find the true name of Jesus in his alleged revelations?
the word "Isa" is not Arabic, then we KNOW that it is from somewhere else. Hebrew
sheds NO light on "Isa," nor does Geez, Aramaic, or Amheric. Where the word "Isa"
is used by old world Christians in the Middle East, as possibly in Coptic Syrian
or Chaldean churches, you will find that the name "Isa" looks suspiciously like
it was borrowed from Islam in the distant past as Islam moved north and into the
horn of Africa. I find changes in Aramaic usage in the Bible manuscript copies
shortly after 625 AD, and it looks like Islam motivated this.
I met some Maronite (spelling???) Christians in Arizona where we lived recently.
They would greet with the words, "Salaam Aykum" as near as I could detect it.
They said they had taken the name of Allah out of their greetings. When I added
the thought of questioning "Isa," they were very curious about this. There is
a moving of zeal to examine the names of the Christian Godhead even in the old
superstitious Christian churches like this. How much more we, who bear the literal
Word of God and the zeal of the Narrow Way, should be willing to cleanse our lips
of any suspect thing. Jesus said:
12:36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall
give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37 For by thy words thou shalt be
justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
It is not an optional thing to use the right words which glorify God.
I again encourage you
to press ahead. Be aware that some diplomatic word of caution or ecumenical cowardice
will soon be added, possibly from a great scholar or in-church diplomat. Move
forward with care that you do the right thing, but do not drag your feet, lest
the slow bellies insert themselves into the issue.
Also, I see your people are suspicious of contextualization. This innovation in
missions is rapidly emasculating mission work all over the world. The most idiotic
thing in missions to Muslims is in this regard is the Jesus Mosques of North Africa.
Southern Baptist missionaries are delighted with these aberrations of zeal. They
are neither Christian nor Islamic. They are silly pagan exercises. I suspect you
know about this thing.
Please keep in touch.
you found the above page at my book site online.
God bless as you preach Christ to Muslims for whom Christ died,
Steve Van Nattan
want to hear from Bible believing readers who are familiar with Islam, the Koran,
Arabic, and Christian witness. What are your observations?
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