Muslim distorts the parable of the unmerciful servant of Matthew 18:23-35

Muslims have a seed of the teaching of substitutionary ransom sacrifice in their own Qur’an, Surah 37:107 – “We have ransomed him with a mighty sacrifice”.  When Allah stopped Ibrahim from killing his son, Allah provided a substitutionary sacrifice – a ransom, an atonement – which the Qur’an got from Genesis 22, and which was a prophesy and foreshadowing of the Messiah Jesus to come.   This is a Turkish post card, produced by a Muslim group in Turkey, celebrating the “Kurban Bayrami” (Feast of Sacrifice) – (“Eid e Ghorban” – Farsi = عید قربان ) or “Eid Al Adha” – Arabic – عید الاضحی ).  You can see the Turkish that says, “Hazrat Ibrahim offers his son Ismael as a human sacrifice.”  Muslims think it was Ishmael, even though the text of the Qur’an never mentions him in that context.  But we know it was Isaac from Genesis 22 and Hebrews 11, and other passages. (“Hazrat” is a term of respect and honor for all the prophets, even Mary, the mother of Jesus. They say “Hazrat e Maryam” – حضرت مریم (Farsi). )

Paul Bilal Williams writes many articles against the Biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement and ransom for sin.

In one of them, he quotes from C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, but doesn’t give us the page number, so that we can find the context.  (no longer available, as Paul B. Williams has changed his blog at least 3 times.)

I answered him in the com-box and repeat my answer here: (With some additional comments and links.)
Hi Paul,
I sincerely wish you peace that comes through Al Masih and His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross in history, the ransom that even the Qur’an alludes to in Surah 37:107, because the story of Abraham offering his son was a prophesy and foreshadowing of the Messiah to come. Only through Al Masih and His atonement is there peace. (Romans 3:24-26; John 14:27; Romans 5:1; Matthew 11:27-30)
It would have been nice to have the page number from C. S. Lewis’ book. He goes on to affirm the teaching of substitutionary sacrifice.
Samuel Green has a good article that refutes your polemic against the Biblical teaching.
“How can one man pay for the sins of another?” at

Also, you ignore the fact that the Qur’an does have a “seed” of the Biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement in Surah 37:107 – “We have ransomed him with a mighty sacrifice”.
وَفَدَيْنَاهُ بِذِبْحٍ عَظِيمٍ

I have written about this also on another blog, here.

“So, Why Did Allah substitute an innocent ram (or lamb or sheep) to be killed in the place of Ibrahim’s son?

Now I know Islamic theology rejects that and teaches against it, but a “seed” of it survived in the text, because the Qur’an gets its basic material and storyline from the Torah and the Injeel, although the Qur’an adds other things and myths and twists the different stories.

The concept of substitutionary atonement was there and is all through the Bible, taught from Adam and Eve and God providing skins to cover their shame and nakedness to Abraham’s sacrifice in Genesis 22, to the Passover lamb in Exodus 12, to the tabernacle sacrifices in Lev. 1-7 and 16-17, to the temple (I and 2 Kings; Daniel 9:24-27, other prophets), to the prophesy of the Messiah to come, the suffering servant. (Isaiah 53). Mark 10:45 / Matthew 20:28 show the fulfillment of the suffering servant prophesies and the substitution and the ransom aspect.
Also, you have taken the parable in Matthew 18:23-35 out of context, which I have pointed out to you before, but you seem to just ignore basic things like context.
Also, the translation you are using is defective. The Greek text is clear that verse 23 has, “For this reason” or “Therefore” ( Greek: δια τουτο = dia toutou). Every credible English translation that I have checked has either “therefore” or “for this reason”. (ESV, NRSV, NASB, HCS (Holman Christian Standard), NIV, JKV, NKJV, etc. )

I wonder, what translation are you using?
These 2 Greek words are very important for interpreting the parable correctly, because the “therefore” or “for this reason” connects the parable to what comes before and explains why Jesus told the parable. He does not have to mention substitutionary sacrifice within the parable, because that is understood, because telling the parable was prompted by Peter’s question of “how many times do I forgive my brother?” – and that was prompted by Jesus teaching about the church and church discipline when someone refuses to to repent of his sin against another brother in the church. (Matthew 18:15-22) The fact that Jesus is teaching something about the local church, and that all Christians understood that in the church, there is teaching on Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice for sin as part of the gospel that one must believe in, in order to be a member of a church – just as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:31-32 – “Forgive one another as God in Christ forgave you” .  In the church, God’s word teaches us that forgiveness looks back to the cross and what God did for us in Christ as the cross.  Jesus was explaining that principle for the future churches in Matthew 18:15-35.
So, you have clearly distorted the parable completely, by using a faulty translation and by ignoring the context of verses 15-22, which tell us the reason for why Jesus taught that parable. Everything in the Bible before the cross is leading up to it; and everything after it points back to it as the only way to be forgiven – because God is holy and has just anger against your sin. God forgives and has mercy, because His holiness and wrath against sin was satisfied at the cross, the “Qorbani – abadi” (eternal sacrifice; قربانی ابدی ) .

About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
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16 Responses to Muslim distorts the parable of the unmerciful servant of Matthew 18:23-35

    • Thanks Sam; I will be reading your articles. I am pretty sure I already read some of those.

      As you can see, I have a little different approach. We never know how or what might the Spirit of God be doing in someone else’s heart; as long as someone is alive, there is the possibility that God can use His word and apologetics with gentleness and respect. I Peter 3:15

  1. Sam, these are great quotes from James D. G. Dunn from your first article: Excellent !

    “Since Williams is quite fascinated with the writings of the prominent NT scholar James D. G. Dunn, here are a few quotes from one of his writings concerning what Christ’s earliest followers actually believed and proclaimed:

    “Whatever we can or should say about Jesus and his mission there can be little or no question that what the FIRST CHRISTIANS believed had happened to Jesus after his death transformed their appreciation of him completely. FOR THEY WERE CONVINCED THAT GOD HAD RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD. This is the core affirmation of Christian faith, and it can be traced back FIRMLY TO THE EARLIEST DAYS OF THE MOVEMENT THAT STEMMED FROM JESUS, and in particular to the visionary experiences that the FIRST CHRISTIANS had of Jesus as risen from the dead and exalted to heaven. Such belief was already a confession by the time Paul was himself converted, WHICH WAS PROBABLY LESS THAN TWO YEARS AFTER JESUS’ CRUCIFIXION (1 Cor. 15.3-7). And Paul was probably converted to beliefs that he had persecuted, BELIEFS ALREADY WELL ESTABLISHED AMONG THE FIRST MEMBERS OF THE SECT OF THE NAZARENES. THEIRS WAS AN ASTONISHING BELIEF IN ITSELF. Many Jews believed that there would be a resurrection at the end of time and before the day of last judgment; that is, a general resurrection of the dead. But the thought of one person being resurrected (not simply revived to his previous life) WAS UNHEARD OF. SOMETHING OF MIND-BLOWING SIGNIFICANCE HAD HAPPENED, AND JESUS WAS AT THE CENTRE.

    “More to the immediate point, these EARLIEST BELIEVERS were also convinced that Jesus had been taken or exalted to heaven. What had happened to Jesus was not simply a translation like that of Enoch or Elijah, nor simply a vindication such as Wisdom 5 assures the righteous they could anticipate. What then? We can safely assume that the first disciples would have searched the Scriptures to help explain and make sense of what had happened to Jesus. A key verse that shed much light for them and that evidently informed and shaped THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN reflection on the subject was Psalm 110.1…

    “This verse runs like a gold thread through much of the New Testament, and is so interwoven into the language of the New Testament writers that it evidently was a primary starting point or stimulus for the strong strand of New Testament christology summed up in the confession, ‘Jesus is Lord’. The title (‘lord’) in itself did not necessarily signify any more than the status of a (human) master to his servant or slave; but in the context of the times, use of the title for Jesus in a cultic setting affirmed that he was being ranked alongside the gods of other cults (Asclepius, Isis, etc.), or alongside the Emperor in some degree of competition with the divine claims made for Caesar. And in the context given to the title ‘Lord’ (kyrios) by Psalm 110.1, its reference to Christ immediately indicates that in EARLIEST CHRISTIAN FAITH Jesus was now to be reckoned in terms similar to those used for heavenly beings of earlier Jewish reflection, or, more precisely, to be reckoned AS SHARING THE ONE GOD’S RULE. With this title Jesus is seen to be more on the side of God reaching out to humankind, than of humankind coming to God. (Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?, 4. The Lord Jesus Christ, pp. 101-103; bold and capital emphasis ours)


    “In a passage of great importance, Paul recalls that the gospel faith that he inherited affirmed ‘that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures’ (1 Cor. 15.3). He received this confession presumably immediately after his conversion, WHICH WAS PROBABLY WITHIN TWO YEARS OF JESUS’ CRUCIFIXION. SO THIS WAS ONE OF THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN STATEMENTS OF FAITH. That Jesus’ death was being thus regarded in terms of a sin offering, or as the equivalent of the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, is confirmed by other Pauline passages. From this it can be inferred that (many or most of) THE FIRST CHRISTIANS REGARDED JESUS’ DEATH AS SACRIFICAL, A SACRIFICE THAT REMOVED, EXPIATED, CLEANSED FROM SIN. The inference can be extended: to refer to Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin was to imply that no other sacrifices for sin were thereafter necessary for those who believed in Jesus…” (Ibid., 2. The practice of worship, p. 55; bold and capital emphasis ours)


    “The affirmation of Jesus’ lordship is one which we trace back at least to THE EARLIEST DAYS of Christian reflection on Christ’s resurrection. One of the scriptures which quickly became luminous FOR THE FIRST BELIEVERS was evidently Ps. 110.1: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at my right until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ THE FIRST CHRISTIANS now knew who ‘my Lord’ was who was addressed by the Lord God. It could only be Messiah Jesus. He was now ‘God’s vice-regent.’ The text was clearly in mind in several Pauline passages…” (Dunn, The Theology of Paul The Apostle [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids MI/Cambridge U.K., Paperback Edition 2006], Chapter 4. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, 10 The Risen Lord, p. 246; bold and capital emphasis ours)

    Notice Dunn’s assertion that the evidence conclusively shows that the very first disciples of Jesus believed that Christ died sacrificially on the cross to expiate sin and that God had raised him back to life. Dunn further claims that Jesus’ earliest followers were convinced that after his resurrection Christ ascended to God in order to share in God’s unique sovereign rule over all creation as Lord of all!

    Now this places both Williams and Zaatari in a predicament. The Quran denies Jesus’ vicarious death and also claims that Jesus’ followers were all Muslims (cf. Q. 3:52; 4:157-158; 5:111). If this were true then there shouldn’t be any evidence that the disciples of Christ went around proclaiming that Jesus died a substitutionary death and that he was subsequently raised to immortal life to share in God’s sovereignty over all creation. Yet, according to scholars like Dunn, this is precisely what they taught and affirmed!

    Thus, the statements made by one of William’s favorite scholars prove that the Quran is mistaken concerning the beliefs of the very first followers of Jesus. Therefore, since the Quran is in error this means that Muhammad stands condemned as a false prophet who sought to pervert the message proclaimed by the historical Jesus and his earliest followers.

    What makes these quotations from Dunn even more fascinating is that they all come from a book which Williams himself praises and encourages Muslims to read since he actually thinks that it somehow supports Islamic dawah (propagation)! ”

    Indeed. Thanks for that Sam! James D. G. Dunn is not on the side of Islam after all.

  2. Sam, I see now that you did address the parable in Matthew 18 and the context and Ephesians 4:32 – good. ( In your third article you linked to above, “false accusations 2”.)


  3. @apologetic
    Sorry in advance for making out of topic question, but I’m curious with the picture of Islamic Abraham that you’ve shown, is this kind of drawing the prophet face is legal there in Turkey? because usually muslim reject the drawing of the face any prophet especially muhammad.

  4. In Turkey it is legal – Turkey is officially a secular (but still 99 % Muslim) country – they have separation between the Mosque and government. but more than that, many areas historically outside of Arabia have drawn prophets and leaders all through history – especially Turks and Iranians – It is mainly the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia and the Taliban of Afghanistan that enforce the rules consistently over drawings of prophets. I was also very surprised when I saw pictures of prophets that Muslims themselves have drawn over the centuries.


    Dawah refuted – check out the site above – it shows paintings done by Muslims themselves painting faces of prophets. ( in the 1400s from Afghanistan)
    You can google the subject and search and see. Especially miniature paintings of Islamic prophets.

  6. Regarding substitutionary principle on atonement another significant point is, forgiveness of sin is only available for mankind since God has incarnated Himself not to become angel but to become human being as the substitution for another human beings, so if there had been no need for atonement then it would made Satan also forgivable, what a gruesome thought isn’t it ?

  7. Good point – the only way for man to be forgiven is for God to become man and then be the perfect and sinless sacrifice/atonement. Hebrews 2:14-18 shows this. “for He does not give help (salvation) to angels (fallen angels); but the descendant of Abraham”; “Therefore it was necessary for Him to be made like His brethren (see also verse 14 – “He partook of flesh and blood”) in order that He might become a faithful a merciful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (verse 17). Since Christ did not become an angel, fallen angels cannot be saved.

  8. Pingback: Response to Shabir Ally and Paul Bilal Williams on the incarnation and atonement | apologeticsandagape

  9. Ken Temple says:

    Reblogged this on apologeticsandagape and commented:

    I am re-blogging this because it is so important. All the links to Paul Bilal William’s old blog are no longer available. In case you don’t know, he has a new blog:

  10. Pingback: The Qur’an affirms substitutionary atonement in Surah Al Saffat 37:107 | apologeticsandagape

  11. Pingback: Islam could not get rid of the concept of sacrifice, ransom, or substitutionary atonement | apologeticsandagape

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