This will be a continual work-in-progress over the years of compiling a list of early Christian theologies, focusing mainly on those with Muslim-sounding themes or major turning points in history.
No single early theology lines up 100% with what Muslims believe the prophet Jesus ﷺ truly preached. But by looking at different theologies, we can find that Christian theology is not as defined as common folk make it out to be today. It developed over centuries and many different theories existed. I’ll try to highlight those which have Islamic characteristics, though the church declared most of them heresies at this point.
Pelagianism: holds that the original sin did not taint human nature and that humans have the free will to achieve human perfection without divine grace. Pelagius (c. 355 – c. 420 CE), a British monk, taught that God could not command believers to do the impossible, and therefore it must be possible to satisfy all divine commandments. He also taught that it was unjust to punish one person for the sins of another; therefore, infants are born blameless. Pelagius accepted no excuse for sinful behavior and taught that all Christians, regardless of their station in life, should live unimpeachable, sinless lives. Pelagius wrote: “pardon is given to those who repent, not according to the grace and mercy of God, but according to their own merit and effort, who through repentance will have been worthy of mercy.”
New Perspective on Paul
New Perspective on Paul: Basically a re-analysis of the views of Paul, which we certainty advocate. Not that we agree with Paul in any way, but their conclusions of what he taught seem to be more accurate and nuanced. Anything that gives more clarity to historical developments is useful, and academics are far closer to the truth than apologetics.
From here we can clearly tell that Paul was a major source of corrupting the prophet Jesus’ ﷺ true teachings, both about the nature of Jesus (Christology) and following the sacred Law, which he dismantled. We find inconsistencies in his beliefs: In Philippians 2, Paul states that Jesus was preexistent and came to Earth “by taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness.” This sounds like an incarnation Christology. In Romans 1:4, however, Paul states that Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead,” which sounds like an adoptionistic Christology, the belief that Jesus was a human being who was “adopted” after his death, similar to what the Romans believed about Romulus, the founder of Rome.
Notably, Paul believed that the second coming would happen in his lifetime, so for his early preaching he focused on gaining converts as fast as possible, casting aside the Law and exhibiting variant views about the Law which probably fluctuated over time. For Paul, everything not immediately useful for salvation is worthless, so he’d rather gain converts who don’t follow the law than leave them in Paganism. Yet he continues to say that his mind desires to obey God’s law, while his flesh makes him “a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:21–25). In some of his writings we find absolutism, in others we find him juggling an attempted balancing act between his vacillating views. Does a convert have to adopt Jewish customs? Do they have to follow the law and be circumcised? Do they still observe the Sabbath? It is clear that he has no idea what the prophet Jesus ﷺ actually preached, lacking clarity in his own head, let alone clarity in his teachings.
This reminds me of one of the most famous narrations of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ in the introduction to Sahih Muslim: “Indeed a lie upon me is not like a lie upon anyone else, for whoever lies upon me intentionally, then he shall take his seat in the Fire.” We can clearly see why accurate transmission is so vitally important to properly preserving God’s revelation and the messages of His prophets. Corrupting them is a major goal of Shaytan, mankind’s greatest enemy. Our blessed sanad, or chain of transmission, is what preserved Islam through the ages, notably lacking in any other religion. Another note is that the prophet Jesus ﷺ had a much shorter prophetic mission, cut short early on, with far fewer adherents and little security to develop his followers.
In contrast, the prophet Muhammad ﷺ had a 23-year mission (on the Hijri calendar) with tens of thousands of companions, among them many senior companions who strove to preserve the final message, followed by generations of very blessed early scholarship. The prophet Muhammad ﷺ spent over a decade as the leader of an Islamic state with a constitution in Medina. This provided the rich, fertile soil for cultivating a complete, divine message to mankind through not only the Revelation itself, the Qur’an, but also his ﷺ prophetic character, teachings, and behavior preserved through the hadith and sira literature. Given the proven fact that no revelation before the Qur’an is accurately preserved, the need for a final revelation is clear as day. Like the bright rising sun vs the fading stars, the Qur’an’s clarity and preservation makes everything else just fade away. Why would I still look for light among the stars when the sun has already risen?
With regards to Paul, it may not seem that he intended to distort the message of Jesus ﷺ, rather he prached based on what information was available to him at the time. When the prophet Jesus ﷺ left Earth, a variety of ideas about him and his teachings spread, which is reflected in the New Testament writings which vary considerably: from calling him a prophet to an incarnation Christology, from obeying and renewing the Law to abandoning it. Thus, centuries of debate ocurred to reconcile all of these variant ideas and every century of early Christian history is replete with several “heresies.”
Britannica has a good article on Paul’s theology by the progenitor of this movement, EP Sanders.
- How Jesus Became God – Bart Ehrman article