Christian doctrine, Christology, Holy Trinity, Islam, Islamic Christology, Islamic theology, Jesus Christ, Quran, Trinitarian theology
- This is Part Two of Three of a Series of Articles on Islamic Christology
The controversy about the Christology of Christ is the major difference between Islam and Christianity. This difference keeps the followers of the two religions apart. Muslims look at Jesus Christ as a great prophet of God and love and respect him as much as they love and respect Abraham, Moses and Muhammad. Christians on the other hand consider Jesus as God or Son of God, a concept that Muslims cannot accept. Islam teaches that Jesus never made such a claim for himself. In fact all the cardinal doctrines of Christianity that are rejected by Islam center on the personality of Jesus. Some of the important ones are:
Jesus as the Second Person in the The Trinity
Though questioned by some groups within the pale of Christianity, the concept of the Trinity has strong biblical support.
This doctrine does not suggest, as is alleged by non-Trinitarians, a tri-theistic construct of God. It simply affirms that there are three distinct persons (i.e., the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), yet all are one in essence. In other words, while the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sustain distinct relationships to one another, they share the same divine nature.
In this regard, Christianity and Islam are firmly opposed to one another. Unlike the monotheism of Christianity that allows for a plurality within the divine essence, Islam condemns such a pluralistic concept of God.
The Quran cautions the “people of the book” (i.e., Christians) against calling God “Trinity” for “God is only one God” (Q 4:171). And according to Q 5:73:
“They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no God save the One God. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve.”
It should also be noted that Christian doctrine does not present a composite divine being. On the contrary, they affirm the undivided unity of the divine essence. The Muslim writer Suzanne Haneef misrepresents Christian belief on this issue as holding to a deity in ‘three parts’, to which she responds:
‘God is not like a pie or an apple which can be divided into three thirds which form one whole’.
Christians would heartily agree with her on this point; the problem for Haneef is that we do not believe that God is in three parts. There is one unique divine essence. The Quran misunderstands Christian doctrine on the triune nature of God, and this in itself indicates that the Muslim holy book; the Quran, is fallible, and thus not divine inspiration, since it does not even come close to revealing the Trinity as taught in the Bible nor as understood by Orthodox Christianity at the time of Muhammad during the 7th century AD.
Of course, the Quran not only misconceives the nature of the Trinity, it misconstrues the identity of the persons: it presents us with three deities – Allah, Mary and Jesus – as we read in Q 5:116:
‘‘And behold! Allah will say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?’”
Again, this presents a picture of a divided divine essence that Christians deny. We do not believe that Jesus was a separate deity from the Father; still less do Christians believe that Mary was a member of the Trinity. Based on Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14, Christians believe that the Holy Spirit, rather than Jesus, is ‘the third’ of three (more exactly, of the ‘three-in-one’); Jesus is also represented as the second person of the Trinity.
The Deity of Jesus
Consistent with Islam’s repudiation of the Trinitarian idea of God, the Quran, though it exalts Jesus in many particulars, explicitly denies the deity of Jesus. While the Quran acknowledges that Jesus was a miraculous “sign” and divine “blessing”, (Q 19:21), Islamic Christology is totally devoid of divine content.
Since God’s transcendent glory prohibits his begetting a son, the Quran presents Jesus only as the “son of Mary,” not as the Son of God (Q 4:171). Rather than possessing the divine nature as in biblical Christology, (Philippians 2:8-12; Colossians 1:18), the Quranic Jesus “was only a creature” (Q 43:59) brought into existence by God’s creative word (Q 3:42-52). Islam’s view of Jesus demonstrates the vast difference between it and Christianity. And, far from being a peripheral issue, the deity of Jesus is an essential tenet of Christianity. Thus, while Christianity and Islam share a common monotheistic belief, there is no resolving their christological differences as they stand.
Furthermore, since the Lord Jesus retains his human nature forever, eternally existing as the God-man, as well as being man’s ultimate head and representative before God, he remains forever subject to the Father. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 45-49; 1 Timothy 2:5-6.)
There are also several lines of evidence in Scripture, which converge to prove that the Biblical writers regarded Jesus as human, but as more than human as well. They considered him divine. John says he was divine and God (John 1:1). Paul says he is the “very form of God” (Philippians 2:6) as well as our great God and savior (Titus 2:13). He is referred to as Lord, (Matthew 2:43-45), Yahweh,(cf. Romans 10:9, 13 and Joel 2:32) as well as the King of Kings (a designation a Jew such as John would only give to God himself (Revelation 19:16). He does the works of God, including creating (John 1:3; Col. 1:15-20), sustaining (Hebrews 1:3-4), saving (Matthew 1:23), raising the dead (John 5:25); judging (John 5:27), sending the Spirit (a work assigned to the Father as well. See John 14:26; 15:26), and building his church (Matthew 16:18). He accepts, as God himself does, worship from all men (Matthew 14:33) and angels (Hebrews 1:6), and someday all men will bow to him (something only God accepts) Philippians 2:10, Isaiah 45:23).
Jesus is ‘Word made Flesh’
Since the testimony of the New Testament writers is that Jesus is the Word of God (who is God) become flesh, Muslims have asserted that the message of Christ has been corrupted. Hence, what we have in the New Testament documents are words attributed to Jesus, but never uttered by him. Yet, owing to the fact that nearly 25,000 manuscripts of the Bible, thousands of archaeological findings, as well as extra-biblical documents have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the Bible provides accurate, eyewitness accounts on Jesus’ deeds and life, Muslims have tried to find another way to discredit Christ’s divinity.
Once again this argument is unfounded since if the title was given solely to imply the creation of Jesus, then as suggested that Adam should also be called the Word of God. Yet nowhere in the Quran, or Hadith for that matter, is Adam ever referred to by such a title. This illustrates quite conclusively that the title, when applied to Christ means much more than what Muslims would have Christians believe. We are then logically forced to arrive at the same conclusion that the Apostle John comes to in the prologue of his gospel; namely that Jesus, being the eternal Word of God, is the complete manifestation of the Godhead in human form and the ultimate and final revelation of divinity (John 1:1-3, 14, 18).
Jesus as ‘Prophet’
Islam only accepts Jesus as a prophet. He is joined with Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and Moses as simply one of the prophets between whom no distinction of any kind is made: Say ye: “We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord.”
“We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam).” Q 2:136
Deuteronomy 18:18 predicts another prophet like Moses in Acts 3:22-23 and explicitly identifies this with Jesus (v.22 “Moses said, ‘the LORD God shall raise up a prophet to you like me from among your brothers. You will listen to everything he says to you. 23 ‘And it shall be, that every soul that will not listen to that prophet, will be utterly destroyed from among the people.’. However, it has been a consistent polemic of Islamic apologetics that Deuteronomy 18:18 predicts Muhammad, rather than Jesus.
However, this ignores Deuteronomy 18:15. “The LORD shall raise up to you a prophet like me from among you, of your brothers; you shall listen to him.” The prophet is to come from the midst of the Israelites, and clearly this does not apply to Muhammad, though it does fit the picture of Jesus.
Notably in Deuteronomy 17:15, where, permission having been granted, Israel to establish a king over them, they are told of the restrictions upon his identity. Primarily, he must be the one chosen by the LORD. Secondly, he must be from ‘among your brothers; you may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.‘ Clearly, the kings of Israel had to be Israelites, and since the same terminology is employed here as in 18:15, 18. This demonstrates that the prophet had to be an Israelite. It is noteworthy that when King Herod Agrippa, c. 40 – 41 AD, read the passage about the ethnic identity of the king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, ‘he burst into tears, as he bethought himself of his Edomite ancestry.’
Clearly, the reference to ‘brother‘ was recognized as meaning ‘fellow-Israelite’.
Jesus the ‘Messiah’
The Quran states that Jesus was the Messiah. He is called Al-Masihu Isa – “the Messiah Jesus” (Q 4:157, 171). The title Al-Masih (the Messiah) sometimes appears by itself as in Q 4:172 and on other occasions he is called Al-Masih ibn Maryam – “the Messiah, son of Mary” (Q 9:31), but on each of the eleven occasions where it appears the title Al-Masih is applied specifically to Jesus alone. When the Angel Gabriel first appeared to Mary he stated that the name of her son was to be Al-Masihu Isa (Surah 3:45).
Jesus is called the Messiah eleven times in the Quran. Yet the Quran fails to explain the significance the title Messiah has in our understanding of Jesus. What exactly is a Messiah? What is the Messiah supposed to do? Why Jesus is called the Messiah? How do we know that he is the Messiah? The Quran fails to answer any of these questions.
Our Lord Jesus in Mark 12:35-37, quoting Psalm 110:1 identifies the Messianic King to be divine, and this would also seem to be the import of Acts 2:36, given the parallelism of ‘Christ’ and ‘Lord’.
Christos, Greek for Maschiach – ‘Anointed One’ priests, kings and prophets were anointed with oil, symbolizing the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 61:1, Zechariah 4:1-6) – i.e. the impartation of grace for office and visible appointment to such, together with establishment of particular relationship with God (1 Samuel 16:13; 24:6; 26:9; 2 Samuel 1:14).
In the next part, PART 3, of this series we will examine some of the biblical divine attributes ascribed to Christ and were, surprisingly, implicitly or explicitly applied to Christ in the Quran.
1 Brad Bromling, Trinity – From Nice or Heaven? Be sure: “A study in Christian Evidences,” Apologetics Press, Jan. 1995.
2 Norman L. Geisler, and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993, p. 266.
3 Zia Ullah Muhammad, The Islamic Concept of God, Noor Foundation International, May 1999.
4 Suzanne Haneef, What Everyone should know about Islam and Muslims, Kazi Publications, Lahore, 1979. p. 183.
5 It is my own conclusion form the personal research conducted on this misunderstanding by the Quran that one of the contributing factors to Muhammad’s understanding of this twisted view of the Trinity, was his observation of sculptures or images of Mary with baby Jesus at Christian churches and communities of his days.
6 Roelf S. Kuitse, Christology in the Quran, “Missiology: An International Review 20,” 1992, pp 355-369.
7 Which is in the Arabic and Middle Eastern culture in which it is considered a dishonor and degrading to name q0j after his mother than his father.
8 John 1:1-3, 14, 18
9 Furthermore, the Bible is very clear that the word and prophecies of the Bible are the work and words of God the Holy Spirit, and not of man (cf. Matt. 4:4; 2 Peter 1:18-20).
10 Ahmed Deedat, What the Bible says about Muhammad, Kazi Publications (IPCI, Birmingham, undated), 1991, p. 5ff.
11 Muslim theologians rely on the translation which says “from among your brethren” noting that the brothers here are: Isaac and Ishmael. However, reading the passage within its immediate context, and within the book of Deuteronomy. And by conducting a word study of “brethren” will reveal that the word is always used of the twelve tribes of Israel, and nowhere that Ishmael was insinuated.
12 Frederick Fyvie Bruce and David F. Payne, Israel and the Nations, InterVarsity Press, August 1998, p. 209.
13 Al-Tabari, one of Islam’s most renown Quranic commentators, in his exegesis of this verse (Q 3:45) stated that the reason why Allah (the god of Islam) called Jesus “The Messiah” is because Allah removed all sins from him and made him sinless, and bestowed him with all blessings – see http://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=1&tSoraNo=3&tAyahNo=45&tDisplay=yes&Page=2&Size=1&LanguageId=1 . Others as Al-Razi, another renowned Islamic commentator, stated that the title meant among other things that Jesus is the Messiah because he wiped away the diseases of the sick – see http://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=4&tSoraNo=3&tAyahNo=45&tDisplay=yes&Page=3&Size=1&LanguageId=1. It is worthwhile to note that the Arabic word for “Messiah” is “Masih” which is derived from the tri-radical root M-S-H from which we get the Arabic word “Ma-sa-ha” which means “wiped away”.
14 Contrast this with the account of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Matthew 1:21-22where his name “Jesus” had a significant meaning (to save his people from their sins).
15 In John 17:3 Jesus clearly identified himself to be that Messiah.
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