The Qur’anic assessment of Christians can be difficult to harmonize. On the one hand, Christians are the nearest to the believers (5:88), and on the other hand, Christians are disbelievers who face sudden judgment on the last day (6:31; 61:14). Furthermore, the text appears to indicate that some of the Christians remained faithful to correct teaching while another group of Christians went astray (5:66; 61:14). The Christians who went astray began to believe in the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity (4:171; 9:30). What the Qur’anic text does not indicate is why one group of Christians deviated from the truth. Classical commentators, however, have identified the Apostle Paul as the cause of this deviation.
The tradition of Pauline corruption was well known in the classical period, having been promoted as early as the eighth century. Classical commentators such as al-Samarqandi (d. 983), al-Baghawi (d. 1122), Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1210), al-Qurtubi (d. 1273), and al-Khazen (d. 1351) received this tradition and applied it to their exegesis of the Qur’an. According to the narrative, Paul had distorted the message of Jesus and created the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. Commentators utilized the story of Paul leading some of Jesus’s followers astray to explain the Qur’anic depiction of Christians as having committed excesses in their religion (4:171) and having departed from the truth (61:14). Paul’s alleged actions helped to explain, at least from the classical Muslim perspective, the present condition of Christianity. In other words, the Pauline corruption narrative helped to harmonize the two Qur’anic depictions of Christians. They are “people of the book” who received the truth from Jesus, but having been led astray by Paul, they are now in error. I will seek to demonstrate in this project that classical Muslim commentators interpreted anti-Christian Qur’anic texts through the lens of Pauline corruption.
To support my thesis statement, I will divide the paper into two parts. In the first part, I will summarize what the Qur’an says about Christians, namely that they have committed excesses in their religion and have departed from the truth. In the second part, I will describe how the classical commentators interpret these verses through the lens of Pauline corruption.