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How to Read the Bible


What is the Bible for?

In his new history of “the world’s most influential book,” the Anglican theologian John Barton argues that neither Christianity nor Judaism is an essentially “scriptural” religion, a notion that might surprise some contemporary readers. Barton contrasts both traditions with Islam, which he calls “perhaps . . . the ideal type of book religion.” While Muslims recognize a historical relationship between God and humanity that preceded the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammed—one whose contours roughly match Jewish and Christian narratives—the Qur’an fundamentally alters this relationship, bringing Islam as such into being. Furthermore, Mohammed’s recitation of God’s word (qur’an means “recitation”) serves as proof of his status as the last and greatest prophet, so belief in the Qur’an as the word of Allah is among the central tenets of the faith. As both a theological and a historical matter, there could be no Islam without a Qur’an.

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