Who were the "true Christians," by which we mean the true followers of Jesus (peace be with him), according to the Qur'an? Can we identify any historical group as being the true followers of Jesus (p.), according to what we know in the Qur'an?
In early Christianity, there were a number of Christian groups - not just the followers of Paul. Some of the beliefs of these Christians were remarkably similar to what the Qur'an says about Jesus (peace be with him).
The Qur'an says about Jesus that he was the Messiah (eg. Qur'an 3:45), was born of a virgin (eg. Qur'an 19:20), and of course that he was only a human being, not God (eg. Qur'an 4:171). He also confirmed Jewish Law (eg. Qur'an 5:49). If these claims of the Qur'an are true, you would expect that some of the followers of Jesus (peace be with him) would also have held these beliefs.
So, these four beliefs again are that Jesus (peace be with him) was 1. the Messiah, 2. born of a virgin, 3. a human being, not God, and 4. confirmed Jewish Law. Therefore, the true hisorical followers of Jesus (p.), according to the Qur'an, would follow all poinst 1-4.
Most present day Trinitarian Christians accept 1 and 2, but they reject 3 and 4, because they believe Jesus was God, and they reject following Jewish Law.
Other early Christians, however, believed like Muslims in all points 1-4. According to the Qur'anic account, therefore, it is these "Jewish Christians" who were the true followers of Jesus (p.) The earliest account we have of them is in fact in the New Testament, in the Book of Acts. This was the church established in Jerusalem, and headed at first by the Apostle Peter, and then by James, Jesus' brother. This church followed Jewish Law, according to the Book of Acts. The Gospel according to Matthew in the New Testament also quotes Jesus (p.) as stating that people must follow Jewish Law until the end of time, in Matthew 5:17-20. Jesus (p.) says he will reject those who call on him but do not do the will of "my Father in Heaven," i.e. who do not follow Jewish Law, in Matthew 7:21-23.
Here also is what one book says about some of these early Jewish Christians:
There were two schools of thought within the Ebionite movement. One group, known as the Nazarenes, claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, born of a virgin. [...]
The doctrinal position of the Ebionites overlapped the beliefs of the Jews and orthodox Christians, and caused them to be condemned by both. In turn, the Ebionites regarded the Jews as unenlightened and damned Paul as the first Christian heretic. The sect proclaimed that most of the scriptures the Catholics revered were not authentic. [...]
So, we find that a section of the early Jewish Christians, the Nazarenes, believed that Jesus (peace be with him) was the Messiah, and was born of a virgin. I have read elsewhere that they rejected that Jesus (peace be with him) was God. Therefore, their beliefs seem to be very close to what the Qur'an proclaims about Jesus (peace be with him). The Nazarenes, according to the above passage, considered Paul to be a heretic, and considered that most of the scriptures the Catholics revered (i.e. probably most of the New Testament) were not authentic.
By the way, just as a point of interest, if I remember right, the word used in the Qur'an for Christians is "Nasara" (plural) or "Nasrani" (singular), which is very close to "Nazarene."
I suggest that, based on what we know in the Qur'an, a section of these early Jewish Christians, who believed that 1. Jesus (p.) was the Messiah, 2. born of a virgin, 3. not God, but a man, and 4. who followed Jewish Law, were the true followers of Jesus, peace be upon him.
Copyright © 1996, 1998 Fariduddien Rice. Permission to reprint and distribute is granted only if this notice is included, and the text is not modified in any way, shape or form to alter the intended meaning.
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