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The Children of Israel & the Origins of Christianity

Question and answer details
Aini
2012/07/03
Salaams dear scholar, Does the House of Israel refer to the sacred Masjid Al Aqsa? Was Jesus the last prophet sent to the Children of Israel? Was it the Jews who followed Jesus's teachings, who were later called Christians? Who coined the terms "Christ" and "Christians'"?
Shahul Hameed
Answer
Salam,  Aini.


Thank you for your questions.

What Is the House of Israel?

The "House of Israel" actually stands for the Children of Israel, not to any particular house in the sense of a building or erected structure. And obviously, it does not stand for Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa. The following verses in the Bible make it clear:

And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel. (Numbers 20:29)

There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:45) 

So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. (Samuel 2 6:15)

Israel is another name of Prophet Jacob (Ya`qub, peace be upon him), who was the second son of Isaac (Ishaq, peace be upon him). And Isaac was the second son of Abraham (Ibrahim, peace be upon him).

We read in the Old Testament Book of Genesis how Jacob was renamed "Israel":

And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. (Genesis 32:28)

As Jacob became Israel, his 12 children were called the Children of Israel. And later, all the descendants of Jacob came to be called Children of Israel. Eventually, the terms Israel, Children of Israel, as well as the House of Israel were all used interchangeably to refer to the whole Jewish people, who claimed to follow the teachings of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him).

The common expression used in the Qur'an to refer to the followers of Prophet Moses is Banu Isra'il, Arabic for "Children of Israel."

Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa

Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa (Arabic for "the remote mosque") is another name for Bait Al-Maqdis (Arabic for "the sacred house"), built by Prophet Solomon (peace be upon him). Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was taken on his Night Journey from Al-Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. In the Qur'an Allah says what means:

*{Glory be to Him Who made His servant Muhammad to go on a night from the Sacred Mosque to the remote mosque of which We have blessed the precincts, so that We may show to him some of Our signs; surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing.}* (Al-Israa' 17:1)

Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa was the first direction to which Muslims turned in prayers before the Ka`bah was declared to be the qiblah (the direction of prayer). In fact, Prophet Muhammad prayed in the direction of Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa for 16 or 17 months before the Ka`bah became the qiblah (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Was Jesus the Last Prophet?

Indeed Jesus was the last prophet sent to the Children of Israel; that is to say, after Jesus, no prophet came with an exclusive mission to a particular community or region. But, Muslims believe, Prophet Muhammad came about six centuries after Jesus, and Muhammad was the final prophet, and his mission was for the whole of humanity.

In the Qur'an, Allah Almighty refers to Jesus as a prophet specifically sent to the Children of Israel:

*{And Allah will teach him (Jesus) the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, and (appoint him) an apostle to the Children of Israel.}* (Aal `Imran 3:48-49)

Though the Christians claim that Jesus's mission is intended for the whole of humanity, we see the above Qur'anic idea — of Prophet Muhammad being the last of all prophets — confirmed by the words of Jesus in the Gospel:

But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 15:24)

Christ, Christians, Christianity

Christ is the anglicized version of the Greek word christos, the equivalent of the Hebrew Moshiach (= Messiah, meaning "the Anointed One''). Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth to be the Moshiach expected by the Jews. Hence they call Jesus the Messiah or the Christ.

But the Jews reject this idea, saying that the Moshiach cannot be a "Son of God" or a "Savior" as believed by the Christians:

The word "moshiach" does not mean "savior." The notion of an innocent, divine or semi-divine being who will sacrifice himself to save us from the consequences of our own sins is a purely Christian concept that has no basis in Jewish thought. Unfortunately, this Christian concept has become so deeply ingrained in the English word "messiah" that this English word can no longer be used to refer to the Jewish concept… . The Moshiach will be a great political leader descended from King David (Jeremiah 23:5)…. But above all, he will be a human being, not a god, semi-god or other supernatural being. (Judaism 101, Moshiach)

The Qur'an calls Jesus, Al-Masih `Isa ibn Maryam (Christ Jesus son of Mary). So we Muslims believe Jesus to be the Messiah — Christ means the same as Messiah or Masih — thus disagreeing with the Jews.

At the same time, we do not accept the Christian idea of taking Jesus to be God, or the Son of God, or Savior. We believe that Jesus is a human prophet with his mission limited to the Children of Israel.

The name "Christians" was first used at Antioch by outsiders to refer to the followers of Saint Paul, as we can read in the New Testament of the Bible:

And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts of the Apostles 11:26)

The Jews and the Origins of Christianity

The religion followed by Jesus and his close followers had been looked upon as a sect of Judaism. The early believers of Jesus's teachings were Jews who lived among other Jews. They kept the Mosaic feasts, holy days, rituals, and ceremonies, and worshiped in the temple and in synagogues.

So their religion was not a new religion. But when Paul claimed to be the Apostle to the Gentiles appointed to serve the Gentiles and started preaching new creeds, something totally different happened.

Especially when Paul and his followers came to Antioch, people noted that these "believers" were a new sect whose beliefs centered on Christ as God, who died to save sinners.

The followers of Paul in Antioch were not Jews but Gentiles; they had no background in Judaism and no relationship to the Mosaic Law. They became followers of Christianity, as taught by Paul, and their pagan neighbors invented a new name to describe this strange group of people. They called them Christians (Don Fortner, The Disciples Were Called Christians). 

That was how the word Christianity and its derivations, like Christian, came into existence. It was not Jesus who started this religion, but Paul, who was later inducted as the Apostle to the Gentiles and canonized as a saint by the Church.

Hope the foregoing answers your questions. Please keep in touch.

Salam.

Useful Links:

Between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Muslim View of Jews and Christians

Islam and Christianity; Common Grounds…

Jesus Between Islam and Christianity

The Role of Jesus

The Story of Jesus

Original Sin or… Innocence?

Salvation Through Jesus?


 

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