Rick Warren's Inauguration Prayer - 2009 Barak Obama
Is the Muslim Isa the Jesus of Scriptures?

Editors Note: The following article generated some specific questions, mostly regarding the sub-topic of whether Isa is the Jesus of Scriptures. This led to a part II for this article, which is included immediately after the original article.

Rick Warren's Inauguration Prayer - 2009 Barak Obama

If I was going to offer a prayer that could be interpreted positively and embraced by as many people as possible, Rick Warren's prayer would be a great template.1 A formula for crafting such wording could go as follows:

First, intentionally choose phrasing that would have special and recognizable wording to the groups you want to include. From Rick Warren's prayer:

"Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One"

Jews everywhere will recognize this as the Shema, the key statement in Jewish worship. For reference, the following is from the Jewish Virtual Library...

"Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" (Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad) (Deuteronomy 6:4) - http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/shema.html

Moving to another large and growing religious group, again from Rick Warren's prayer:

"the compassionate and merciful one"

Muslims would readily embrace this wording, which closely paraphrases the opening of the Qur'an and, indeed, the opening words of almost every section of the Qur'an. For reference, from a Muslim article entitled "Compassion In Islam - Theology and History"...

"The very opening of Qur'an, the holy book of Islam is with 'Bism Allahir Rahmanir Rahim' i.e. 'I begin in the name of Allah who is Compassionate and Merciful.'" - http://www.just-international.org/article.cfm?newsid=20002916 (Quotation marks added for clarity).

Finally, to encompass virtually every other person who has even a vague concept of God...

"you are loving to everyone you have made"

Certainly it is necessary to use wording that would be acceptable to Christians as well, Protestant or Catholic, and it should be noted that none of the statements above would be disagreed with by most using the name Christian. Apart from their meaning and understanding in their respective groups, Christians could claim the wording as their own.

"when we forget you, forgive us"

The Jew, the Muslim, or the Christian, looking to their own definition of who God is, will define the "you" in this portion of Rick Warren's prayer. All can say Amen. So too with this later statement:

"all nations and all people will stand accountable before you."

Allah, Jehovah, or Jesus - the "you" can be filled in by those praying along. But since the one praying professes to be a follower of Jesus, the prayer needs to subtly point out the path the prayer has chosen and personally works for him.

"I humbly ask this in the name of the One who changed my life -- Yeshua, Isa, Jesús, Jesus -- who taught us to pray:"

Hebrew, Spanish, or English - the name of Jesus has meaning. As with most languages in the world it was transliterated out of the original language, referencing the historical person revealed and defined by the Bible. The original defining work is the context of the name; while others can "redefine" it, there is an objective standard, the original work which establishes it. How can a prayer be softened to remove the offense of the name? Add another name, not merely another language, but one that it clearly defined by another work. The name "Isa (pronounced 'eee-sa')" is not a transliterated form of the name Jesus, it is the name of one we are often told is Jesus, but cannot be ascertained to be so by how he is defined in the original work. The Qur'an and the subsequent Muslim Hadith, a book of recollections of Muhammad's words and deeds, the only two books that define the name, fully describe their "Isa". (The following is a quotation from an article entitled "Isa, the Muslim Jesus" by Dr. Mark Durie, with some format changes for extra clarity. Even so, please tolerate his wording for the sake of its content).

'Isa, was a prophet of Islam: Jesus' true name, according to the Qur'an, was 'Isa. His message was pure Islam, surrender to Allah. (Âl 'Imran 3:84) Like all the Muslim prophets before him, and like Muhammad after him, 'Isa was a lawgiver, and Christians should submit to his law. (Âl 'Imran 3:50; Al-Ma'idah 5:48) 'Isa's original disciples were also true Muslims, for they said 'We believe. Bear witness that we have surrendered. We are Muslims.' (Al-Ma'idah 5:111)

The biography of 'Isa: According to the Qur'an, 'Isa was the Messiah. He was supported by the 'Holy Spirit'. (Al-Baqarah 2:87; Al-Ma'idah 5:110) He is also referred to as the 'Word of Allah'. (An-Nisa' 4:171) 'Isa's mother Mariam was the daughter of 'Imran, (Âl 'Imran 3:34,35) - cf the Amram of Exodus 6:20 - and the sister of Aaron (and Moses). (Maryam 19:28) She was fostered by Zachariah (father of John the Baptist). (Âl 'Imran 3:36) While still a virgin (Al-An'am 6:12; Maryam 19:19-21) Mariam gave birth to 'Isa alone in a desolate place under a date palm tree. (Maryam 19:22ff) (Not in Bethlehem). 'Isa spoke whilst still a baby in his cradle. (Âl 'Imran 3:46; Al-Ma'idah 5:110; Maryam 19:30) He performed various other miracles, including breathing life into clay birds, healing the blind and lepers, and raising the dead. (Âl 'Imran 3:49; Al-Ma'idah 5:111) He also foretold the coming of Muhammad. (As-Saff 61:6)

'Isa did not die on a cross: Christians and Jews have corrupted their scriptures. (Âl 'Imran 3:74-77, 113) Although Christians believe 'Isa died on a cross, and Jews claim they killed him, in reality he was not killed or crucified, and those who said he was crucified lied (An-Nisa' 4:157). 'Isa did not die, but ascended to Allah. (An-Nisa' 4:158) On the day of Resurrection 'Isa himself will be a witness against Jews and Christians for believing in his death. (An-Nisa' 4:159)

Christian beliefs: Christians are commanded not to believe that 'Isa is the son of God: 'It is far removed from his transcendent majesty that he should have a son'. (An-Nisa' 4:171; Al-Furqan 25:2) 'Isa was simply a created human being, and a slave of Allah. (An-Nisa' 4:172; Âl 'Imran 3:59) Christians are claimed by the Qur'an to believe in a family of gods - Father God, mother Mary and 'Isa the son - but 'Isa rejected this teaching. (Al-Ma'idah 5:116) The doctrine of the Trinity is disbelief and a painful doom awaits those who believe it. (Al-Ma'idah 5:73)

This Jesus certainly would appeal to the Muslims saying Amen to this prayer. Not evangelical Bible believing Christians who speak Arabic, for the name is not merely an Arabic translation as some profess, but Arabic speaking evangelicals are a small minority so there's nothing to worry about in trying to be acceptable to the masses. [See END NOTE 2 on the true Christian Arabic name for Jesus.]

Everything included so far would be what I would do to make a non-offensive, extremely ecumenical, prayer. I'm not sure I could do it any better than Rick Warren's example. BUT, I would not want to craft my prayer for the earthly audience, but with a focus on the heavenly one and a goal that others will be able to legitimately say amen along with me (-"along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." 2 Timothy 2:22b). Heaven forbid that I should invoke the name of a false god - or even pray to the one true God in the name of a false prophet.

Micah 4:5 All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever. (NIV)3

The only way to God is through His Son - Jesus.

John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (NIV)

Part II -- Is the Muslim Isa the Jesus of Scriptures?

It is improbable that Rick Warren utilized Isa, as a name for Jesus, with blatantly evil intent. It is more likely that in his striving to be all inclusive he did so out of carelessness, not understanding his choice of words. In fact, if he inquired of a Muslim, they would be quick to tell him that Jesus' name is Isa - based solely on the Qur'an. It was not his goal to include the Arabic language so much as it was his objective to include Muslims. If the prayer was merely trying to encompass a multitude of Christians, in varying cultures represented in the United States, census statistics show eleven other languages which have more speakers than Arabic.4

The etymology of the word Isa is a great question. Is there any justification for using this name as a valid representation of the Jesus of Scriptures? From my research, I cannot find any scholar, including Muslim apologists, who show any pre-Islamic usage of the name Isa in Arabic texts or documents. This leaves the Qur'an alone as the earliest defining tome on this name.

In fact, the Qur'an, in regards to most other names, and especially that of "prophets" (by their definition), the names in the Qur'an followed the usual method of transliteration, carrying a similar sounding. Examples include: Ibrahim (Abraham), 'Ishaq (Issac), Yaqub (Jacob), Nuh (Noah), Dawud (David), Sulaiman (Solomon), Ayyub (Job), Yusuf (Joseph), Musa (Moses), Harun (Aaron), Zakariyya (Zachariah), Yahya (John the Baptist), Ishmael, Al-Yash'a (Elisha), Yunus (Jonah) and Lut (Lot).

This makes senses that Muhammad, who was illiterate, would use similar sounding names. To utilize names having similar meaning requires a deeper understanding of the original languages.

So what happened with the name of Jesus? Simply put, it appears that Muhammad substituted a different and original name for Him. Perhaps this was the work of the "angel", the one who mislead Muhammad, his professed source of the demonic doctrines which he subsequently taught.

Some Muslim apologists have tried to claim that the name Isa is from the Latin Iesus (of the Greek Iesous, itself a Hellenisation of the Hebrew Yehoshua or the related Aramaic Yeshua, meaning "God Yahweh saves"), but scholars disagree. A "major discrepancy" is the best term assigned to any comparison between alternate and earlier forms of the name Jesus and the Muslim Isa. A later variant of the Aramaic language, called Western Aramaic, is said to have the name "Eesho", which some speculate became "Eesaa", and finally Muhammad's Isa. If this is so, it raises concerns based on meaning, as "Eesho" means "something white in color mixed with darkness or reddishness." How far removed would this name be from the meaning of the Biblical name Jesus?! In fact, by meaning of name (and names commonly have meaning throughout the Biblical languages and many Middle Eastern languages of the past and present), this name opposes the revealed nature of God.

1 John 1:5b God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (NIV) [Compare this verse with passages referring to Jesus: John 1:9, John 8:12, John 9:5]

Regardless of much speculation, there is virtually no hard evidence that the Isa of the Qur'an was derived from even the western Aramaic variant and one would have to question why this single name would be pulled from that language while the names of Muhammad's other prophets don't seem to have the same source. This appears to be Muslim scholars grasping at some kind of evidence to support an aspect of the Qur'an which make no sense in light of its professed compatibility with Jewish and Christian Scriptures.

Because names make a difference, especially one that is only defined by an anti-Christian source, the Arabic Christian church has rejected the name Isa. Evidence of this being a longstanding rejection extends back at least to the 10th century A.D. Arabic translations of the Bible have utilized the name Yasou (alt Yasu, Yaso'a) instead of Isa. It is the long held belief of the Arabic church that this was always so, but manuscript evidence, for or against, is quite sparse. Certainly, that the Arabic translators of that early era used a name transliterated with meaning is itself evidence that believers retained knowledge of Jesus' name apart from the alternate created in the Qur'an. Early examples of variants of the name Yeshua where in common usage throughout the Middle East, not only among later Arabs, but even employed by some who wrote works to disparage the Biblical Jesus.

A Muslim apologist's response to the claim that Yasou was the original Arabic name for Jesus is quite revealing. While acknowledging that the word was used, and that it was a transliteration of the Aramaic "Yeshua", he claims that because it was borrowed from the Hebrew (sic) it is not Arabic. In fact, he then claims that since Muslim created Arabic lexicons do not have the word today, this is proof that it's not an Arabic word!

What [the writer] actually failed to tackle is his own admission that "Yaso'a" is merely a rendition of the Hebrew [sic] "Yeshua", which in short means that it is borrowed from Hebrew and is therefore not Arabic! Furthermore, he has not quoted any Arabic lexicons to back his claims and has actually avoided the issue of lexicons because it does not support his claims! In the Arabic lexicon Lisan Al-Arab by Ibn Manthoor, there is no definition of "Yaso'a" as an Arabic word. [From an article entitled The Name of Jesus (pbuh) by Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi]

By this definition the rest of the names of the other prophets of Islam (Old Testament and New) should not be considered Arabic as well, except Muslims have accepted them.

This same Muslim apologist acknowledges that Jesus' name is normally transliterated in most translations of the Bible -INCLUDING in the Arabic Bible. But, grasping at straws, he can cite ONE example where a single translator used Qur'anic terminology. Since I am not an expert in Farsi, nor do I know any, I cannot comment on the accuracy of his terms and usage in that language.

Nearly all Bible translations which are non-English (including the Arabic Bible) uses the Hebrew name "Yeshua", therefore it is surprising to see `EESA MASIH being used in the Farsi Bible. The usage of EESA MASIH in the Farsi translation is prove [sic] by itself that the Christian translators do accept the Qur'anic name of Jesus (pbuh). (Ibid. Note that the "including the Arabic Bible" is his words, not mine!)

The fact is, in Arabic, Christian Scriptures don't use Isa as a name for Jesus - believers know, and have known, that the Isa of the Qur'an is not the Jesus of the Bible. If Rick Warren wanted to validly be inclusive of Arabic believers he would have done well to have used the word Yasou instead of Isa. If Warren's usage was unintentional, upon finding this out, I believe that such a public figure should issue a clarification or apology for invoking the name of Isa. Should a believer allow this to stand as an offense to Arabic believers for the sake of including Muslims unbelievers?


1. Transcript of Dr. Warren's prayer at the presidential inauguration:

Let us pray. Almighty God -- our Father. Everything we see, and everything we can't see, exists because of you alone. It all comes from you. It all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story. The Scripture tells us, 'Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.' And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

Now today we rejoice not only in America's peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time, we celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King, and a great cloud of witnesses, are shouting in heaven.

Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice-President Biden, the cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.

Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom, and justice for all.

When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.

And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes -- even when we differ.

Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all. May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy, and a more prosperous nation, and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day, all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.

We now commit our new president, and his wife Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the One who changed my life -- Yeshua, Isa, Jesús, Jesus -- who taught us to pray:

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.


2. Also from an article entitled "Isa, the Muslim Jesus" by Dr. Mark Durie. Notice especially the last line showing that Arabic believers do have a transliterated name to reference the Jesus of Scriptures.

Jesus' name was never 'Isa

Jesus' mother tongue was Aramaic. In his own lifetime he was called Yeshua in Aramaic, and Jesu in Greek. This is like calling the same person John when speaking English and Jean when speaking French: Jesu, pronounced "Yesoo", is the Greek form of Aramaic Yeshua. (The final -s in Jesu-s is a Greek grammatical ending.) Yeshua is itself a form of Hebrew Yehoshua', which means 'the Lord is salvation'. However Yehoshua' is normally given in English as Joshua. So Joshua and Jesus are variants of the same name.

It is interesting that Jesus' name Yehoshua' contains within it the proper Hebrew name for God, the first syllable Yeh- being short for YHWH 'the LORD'.

Yeshua of Nazareth was never called 'Isa, the name the Qur'an gives to him. Arab-speaking Christians refer to Jesus as Yasou' (from Yeshua) not 'Isa.

More on this subject is in the later written part II of this article.

3. If a person did go so far as to invoke the name of a false god, the principle behind the following passage in Deuteronomy still applies...

Deuteronomy 18:20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death." (NIV)

The one invoking the name of another god should be counted as dead to the church - in other words we shouldn't be listening or saying Amen. Invoking God through the name of a false prophet is dangerously close.

4. The 2000 Census shows these languages being used in the United States (with number of speakers):

  1. English - 215 million

  2. Spanish - 28 million
  3. Chinese languages - 2.0 million + (mostly Cantonese speakers, with a growing group of Mandarin speakers)
  4. French - 1.6 million (excludes French Creole which adds 450,000)
  5. German - 1.4 million (High German) + German dialects like Hutterite German, Texas German, Pennsylvania Dutch, Plautdietsch
  6. Tagalog - 1.2 million + (Most Filipinos may also know other Philippine languages, e.g. Ilokano, Pangasinan, Bikol languages, and Visayan languages)
  7. Vietnamese - 1.01 million
  8. Italian - 1.01 million
  9. Korean - 890,000
  10. Russian - 710,000
  11. Polish - 670,000
  12. Arabic - 610,000


Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2009