The fifth chapter of the Qur’an, “The Table,” refers to the Table of the Lord’s Supper. The theme of “The Table” is the sacraments, and the break in many sacrament that Arian Christianity suffered in areas subject to Emperor Justinian’s rectification campaigns. This break made it impossible to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Confession, Confirmation, or Holy Orders. The persecuted Arian members of the Church saw themselves as the new Israel, as did the persecuted Christians under the pagan Roman emperors. Allegiance to the Arian church fathers did not prevent suffering, but provided a meaning and hope to that suffering… until the emergence of the ‘apostle.’
The Loss of the Sacraments
Given that the Qur’an seems to have been written by a late Arian writer, a man who saw himself as Catholic but held the heretical belief that Jesus was created, it’s no surprise that sacraments play a role in the Qur’an:
O you who have faith! Do not violate God’ sacraments, neither the sacred month, nor the offering, nor the necklaces, nor those bound for the Sacred House who seek their Lord’s bounty and pleasure. But when you emerge from pilgrim sanctity you may hunt for game. Ill feeling for a people should not lead to to transgress, because they barred you from the sacred place of prayer. Cooperate in piety and Godwariness, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression, and be wary of God. God is indeed severe in retribution
The Qur’anic author’s interpretation of sacraments seems to include Holy Orders. The kindness of Christians to the Qur’anic community is because they understand the Qur’an’s calls, and because of the presence of these religious:
Surely you will find he Jews and the polytheists to be the most hostile of all people towards the faithful, and surely you will find the nearest of them in affection to the faithful to be those who say, ‘We are Christians.’ That is because there are priests and monks among them, and because they are not arrogant. When they hear what has been revealed to the Apostle, you see their eyes fill with tears because of the truth that they recognize.
They say, ‘Our Lord, we believe; so write us down among the witnesses. Why should we not believe in God and the truth that has come to us, eager as we are that our Lord should admit us among the righteous people?’
So, for what they said, God has requited them with gardens with streams running in them, to remain in them, and that is the reward of the virtuous.
The reference to “We believe” seems to be to the original Nicene Creed, though later variations include the same opening:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father…
“Nicene Creed,” Wikipedia
“Those who say ‘We believe'” is used as a way of saying Nicene Christians — those still in communion with the apostolic Church, and their reception of the sacraments continued in spite of their unbelief in the Arian fathers and councils:
When they come to you, they say, ‘We believe.’ Certainly they enter with disbelief and leave with it, and God knows what best what they have been concealing. You see many of them actively engaged in sin and aggression and consuming illicit gains. Surely, evil is what they have been doing. Why do not the rabbis and the scribes forbid them from sinful speech and consuming illicit gains? Surely, evil is what they have been working.
The Jews says, ‘God’s hand is tied up.’ Tied up be their hands, and cursed be they for what they say! No, His hands are wide open: He bestows as He wishes.
Surely many of them will be increased in rebellion and unfaith by what has been sent to you from your Lord, and We have cast enmity and hatred amongst them until the Day of Resurrection.
O Apostle! Do not grieve for those who are active in unfaith, such as those who say ‘We believe,’ with their mouths, but whose hears have no faith, and the Jews who eavesdrop with the aim of lies and eavesdrop for other people who do not come to you. They pervert words.
Muslims, a religious community in which the text of the Qur’an is one important feature to their religion, generally hold the Qur’an’s composition dates no earlier than AD 610. This is in the middle of the last stage of the life of Arianism. This is 50 years after Justinian I_ eradicated Arianism in the Empire and North Africa and 30 years after the date Spain rejected Arianism. But it is before the last Arian king in Europe.
I say this because the Qur’anic author mentions a ‘gap in the apostles’, until ‘our apostle’ arrived. Something ended between the last of the apostles and ‘our apostle.’ The simplest explanation, to me, is apostolic succession — or at least the recourse to it in the near East.
O People of the Book! Certainly Our Apostle has come to you, clarifying for you after a gap in the apostles, lest you should say, ‘There did not come to us any bearer of good news nor any warner.’ Certainly there has come to you a bearer of good news and a warner. And God has power over all things.’
Emperor Justinian I criminalized Arianism in the Empire. This adds some depths to the Qur’anic author’s rewording of Paul
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
As the Arian religion itself was said to no longer be lawful:
They ask you as to what is lawful for them. Say, ‘All the good things are lawful for you.’ As for what you have taught hunting dogs, teaching them by what God has taught you, eat of what they catch for you and mention God’s Name over it, and be wary of God. God is indeed swift at reckoning.
The focus of “The Table” on the sacraments — indeed it opens with them — help explain why the Qur’anic author accuses Christians of not following the Gospel — the Christian emperor is not allowing what he saw as the licit mass to be held, and may indeed have made it impossible to be held! Note the defensiveness of the Qur’an — “it is they who are the transgressors” implies an accusation that the Qur’anic author or community have been accused of transgressing the Gospel:
We followed them with Jesus Son of Mary to confirm that which was before him of the Torah, and We gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light, confirming what was before it of the Torah, and as guidance and advice for the Godwary.
Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God has sent down in it. Those who do not judge by what God has sent down — it is they who are the transgressors.
So, ‘O People of the Book! You do not stand on anything until you observe the Torah and the Gospel and what has been sent down to you from your Lord.’
Surely many of them will be increased in rebellion and unfaith by what was sent down to you from your Lord. So do not grieve for the faithless lot.
The New Israel
As John connected the Christians to Israel, and emphasized that the true Israelites were the early Christians and not those who remained in the culturally ‘Jewish’ places of worship, the Qur’anic author sees his community as the continuation of God’s people:
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
The Qur’anic author picks up this theme, to insist this new persecuted community of believers, the Qur’anic community, is continuous with Israel and the early Christians. In the same way the Qur’anic author interlaces Mary-sister-of-Moses and Mary-mother-of-Jesus, the Qur’anic author interlaces the two Twelves — the twelve chiefs of Exodus, the twelve apostles of Acts:
Certainly God took a pledge from the Children of Israel, and We raised among them twelve chiefs. And God said, ‘I am with you! Surely, if you maintain the prayer and give the zakat and have faith in My apostles and support them and lend God a good loan, I will surely absolve you of your misdeeds, and I will surely admit you into the gardens with streams running in them. But whoever of you disbelieves after that has certainly strayed from the right way.’
The grammatical response to God saying ‘I AM with you’ would be to say ‘God with us’ — IMMANUEL
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Faith and Suffering
Fittingly for a group of persecuted believers in Christ, suffering is central to the sacraments. Two explanations of suffering are given. One, a result of faithlessness:
Had the People of the Book believed and been Godwary, We would have absolved them of their misdeeds and admitted them into the gardens of bliss. Had they observed the Torah and the Gospel, and what was sent down to them from their Lord, they would have drawn nourishment from above them and from beneath their feet. There is an upright group among them, but what many of them do is evil.
The other, a result of faith, as for the first martyr:
Relate to them truly the account of Adam’s two sons. When the two of them offered an offering, it was accepted from one of them and not accepted from the other. Said, ‘Surely I will kill you.’
Said, ‘God accepts only from the Godwary Even if you extend your hand toward me to kill me, I will not extend my hand toward you to kill you. Indeed, I fear God, the Lord of all the worlds.’ I desire that you earn my sin and your sin, to become one of the inmates of the Fire, and such is the requital of the wrongdoers.’
Faith does not protect one from suffering.
They supposed there would be no testing, so they became blind and deaf. Thereafter God accepted their repentance, yet many of them became blind and deaf, and God watches what they do.
But it creates meaning in the suffering, and hope for the last things:
Indeed, the faithful — the Jews, the Sabeans, and the Christians — those who have faith in God and the Last Day and act righteously — they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.
The Lord’s Supper
“The Table” began with the sacraments, and ends with the sacrament: the Lord’s Supper.
When the Disciples said, ‘O Jesus son of Mary! Can your Lord send down to us a table from the sky? Said he, be wary of God, if you are faithful.’
They said, ‘We desire to eat from it, and our hearts will be at rest, we shall know that you have told us the truth, and we will be among witnesses to it.’
Said Jesus son of Mary, ‘O God! Our Lord! Send down to us a table from heaven, to be a festival for us, for the first ones among us and the last ones and a a sign from You, and provide for us; for You are the best of providers.’
God said, ‘I will indeed send it down to you. But should any of you disbelieve after this, I will indeed punish him with a punishment such as I do not punish anyone in all creation.’
The Qur’an uses the prototype of the Last Supper, Christ’s feeding of the multitudes:
Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
with the actual last meal:
“Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.
The ‘gap in the apostles’ ended the presence of the men who were capable of speaking for God. In Catholic (and thus Arian) thought, the teaching authority of this role was given to the Church through the Holy Spirit:
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
The Qur’anic author identifies ‘His Apostle’ as the resumption of this office. God, the faithful, and ‘His Apostle’ together are able to teach, as the Church once taught for them:
Your guardian is only God, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down. Whoever takes God, is Apostles, and the faithful for his guardians — the confederates of God are indeed victorious
The Qur’anic author likewise quotes Christ from after his resurrection, emphasizing his continuity with John:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'”
But with an addition of the question of partners, which only became an issue worth comment during the Arian crisis. The Qur’anic author loves to sacraments but does not believe that the Church is the bride of the man-God:
There are certainly faithless who say, ‘God is the Messiah, son of Mary.’ But the Messiah had said, ‘O Children of Israel! Worship God, my Lord and you Lord. Indeed, whoever ascribes partners to God, God will forbid him paradise and his refuge will be the Fire, and the wrongdoers will not have any helpers.’
Throughout all this the community is protected by God, the ‘apostle,’ and the faithful.
As he surveyed the splitting of God’s people into numerous communities, the Qur’anic author took solace that it only is because God permits it:
For each among you We had appointed a code and a path, and had God wished He would have made you one community, but that He should test you with respect to what He has given you.
So take the lead in all good works. To God shall be the return of you all, whereat He will inform you concerning that about which you used to differ.
Years later the Catholic pope would echo these words:
The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race, and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives.
Bishop of Rome Francis and Great Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyib, “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” 2019
Perhaps one day these communities would indeed be one
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”