Jesus – God, or just a prophet?


Muslims do believe in “God”.
So do Christians.

Muslims believe in “Jesus”.
So do Christians.

But – who do they say Jesus is?
The Son of God?  Or just a prophet?

 


In the opening for this series (God: Christianity and Islam) I said that there was a huge difference in the beliefs of these two religions.

One incredibly important one is exactly who each of them says Jesus really is.
So let’s look at that topic now.

Following are some excerpts from the Qu’ran:

[3:45] The angels said, “O Mary, GOD gives you good news: a Word from Him whose name is `The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary.

[4:171] O people of the scripture, do not transgress the limits of your religion, and do not say about GOD except the truth. and His word that He had sent to Mary, and a revelation from Him. Therefore, you shall believe in GOD and His messengers. GOD is only one god. Be He glorified; To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. GOD suffices as Lord and Master.

[5:72] The Messiah himself said, “O Children of Israel, you shall worship GOD; my Lord and your Lord.” Anyone who sets up any idol beside GOD, GOD has forbidden Paradise for him, and his destiny is Hell. The wicked have no helpers.

[5:73] There is no god except the one god. Unless they refrain from saying this, those who disbelieve among them will incur a painful retribution.

[5:74] Would they not repent to GOD, and ask His forgiveness? GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

[5:76] Say, “Would you worship beside GOD powerless idols who can neither harm you, nor benefit you? GOD is Hearer, Omniscient.”

[5:77] Say, “O people of the scripture, do not transgress the limits of your religion beyond the truth, and do not follow the opinions of people who have gone astray, and have misled multitudes of people; they are far astray from the right path.”

[5:78] Condemned are those who disbelieved among the Children of Israel, by the tongue of David and Jesus, the son of Mary. This is because they disobeyed and transgressed.

[5:79] They did not enjoin one another from committing evil. Miserable indeed is what they did.

[5:80] You would see many of them allying themselves with those who disbelieve. Miserable indeed is what their hands have sent forth on behalf of their souls. GOD is angry with them and, consequently, they will abide forever in retribution.

[5:81] Had they believed in GOD, and the prophet, and in what was revealed to him herein, they would not have befriended them. But many of them are evil.

[5:85] GOD has rewarded them for saying this; He will admit them into gardens with flowing streams. They abide therein forever. Such is the reward for the righteous.

[5:86] As for those who disbelieve and reject our revelations, they are the dwellers of Hell.

The Muslim Jesus

All of this sounds very good. There’s nothing in here that, as Christians, we would disagree with. All is well. But – is it really? I left out some things. Some very important things. All of the parts where Islam and Christianity disagree as to who Jesus really is. Below is the full text of the quotes from the Qu’ran – with the parts I left out highlighted in purple / bold / italics – words that present a very different picture from the Jesus that we know and love, and count on for our hope of salvation and everlasting life.

And so – here it is, the unvarnished, uncensored, complete truth of what the Qu’ran actually says in the verses above:

[3:45] The angels said, “O Mary, GOD gives you good news: a Word from Him whose name is `The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary. He will be prominent in this life and in the Hereafter, and one of those closest to Me.

This can be pointed to – and obviously God is here, Mary is here, Jesus us here. And Jesus, son of Mary, is also called the Messiah. So far so good.

But wait a minute – what about the part that says Jesus will be “one of those closest to Me”? Closest to Me? What about Jesus being  God? What happened to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? Well – that concept is mentioned in the Qu’ran as well:

[4:171] O people of the scripture, do not transgress the limits of your religion, and do not say about GOD except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was a messenger of GOD, and His word that He had sent to Mary, and a revelation from Him. Therefore, you shall believe in GOD and His messengers.

Oops. Jesus is a “messenger of God”? Well, maybe you could say that as God’s Son – he certainly had a message for us. But wait – this verse continues:

You shall not say, “Trinity.” You shall refrain from this for your own good. GOD is only one god. Be He glorified; He is much too glorious to have a son. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. GOD suffices as Lord and Master.

Uh Oh. There goes both the Son and the Holy Spirit.

“He is much to glorious to have a son”. And “God suffices as Lord and Master”. But wait another minute. What about Jesus – Son of God – as our Savior? This concept is now gone. And if you have any doubts about that, see a verse earlier in chapter 4 of the Qu’ran:

[4:157] And for claiming that they killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of GOD. In fact, they never killed him, they never crucified him – they were made to think that they did. All factions who are disputing in this matter are full of doubt concerning this issue. They possess no knowledge; they only conjecture. For certain, they never killed him.

So Jesus wasn’t the Son of God – and to make His life even less meaningful (if that’s even possible) He didn’t even die on the cross? So Islam has no Trinity – no Savior for the people, no Holy Spirit for comfort and guidance for the people – no hope for the people.

And – if that wasn’t enough – there’s even more.

[4:159] Everyone among the people of the scripture was required to believe in him before his death. On the Day of Resurrection, he will be a witness against them.

When Jesus comes back on the Day of Resurrection (Day of Judgment to us) – He is going to testify against the “People of the scripture” (Jews and Christians). Doesn’t sound at all like the Jesus we know and love.

And there’s still more:

[5:72] Pagans indeed are those who say that GOD is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah himself said, “O Children of Israel, you shall worship GOD; my Lord and your Lord.” Anyone who sets up any idol beside GOD, GOD has forbidden Paradise for him, and his destiny is Hell. The wicked have no helpers.

[5:73] Pagans indeed are those who say that GOD is a third of a trinity. There is no god except the one god. Unless they refrain from saying this, those who disbelieve among them will incur a painful retribution.

[5:74] Would they not repent to GOD, and ask His forgiveness? GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

[5:75] The Messiah, son of Mary, is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint. Both of them used to eat the food. Note how we explain the revelations for them, and note how they still deviate!

[5:76] Say, “Would you worship beside GOD powerless idols who can neither harm you, nor benefit you? GOD is Hearer, Omniscient.”

[5:77] Say, “O people of the scripture, do not transgress the limits of your religion beyond the truth, and do not follow the opinions of people who have gone astray, and have misled multitudes of people; they are far astray from the right path.”

[5:78] Condemned are those who disbelieved among the Children of Israel, by the tongue of David and Jesus, the son of Mary. This is because they disobeyed and transgressed.

[5:79] They did not enjoin one another from committing evil. Miserable indeed is what they did.

[5:80] You would see many of them allying themselves with those who disbelieve. Miserable indeed is what their hands have sent forth on behalf of their souls. GOD is angry with them and, consequently, they will abide forever in retribution.

[5:81] Had they believed in GOD, and the prophet, and in what was revealed to him herein, they would not have befriended them. But many of them are evil.

and this sequence finally ends with:

[5:85] GOD has rewarded them for saying this; He will admit them into gardens with flowing streams. They abide therein forever. Such is the reward for the righteous.

[5:86] As for those who disbelieve and reject our revelations, they are the dwellers of Hell.

Does this sound like Christians and Muslims believe in the same God? It’s not even close. The majority of what is quoted above relates to the issue of Islam claiming that Jesus isn’t the Son of God. Obviously this is a problem – a really big problem. However – it’s also a forgivable sin, should the Muslim see the Light, repent, and follow Jesus – as the Son of God, their Lord and Savior.

But – twice in these verses (4:171 and 5:73) – the Qu’ran also claims that there’s no such thing as the Holy Spirit. Since their “god” is not part of a trinity, not only do they not believe that Jesus is the Son of God – if they even have a concept similar to the Holy Spirit, it’s not as part of God. The Bible, in Mark 3:28-30, (NKJV) says:

Mark 3:28 “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Have teachers of Islam have committed the one unforgivable sin in Christianity – blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Gives whole new meaning to the Qu’ran 5:85-86.

Rather than have the Muslim being admitted by God into the gardens with flowing streams – it will be the Christians.

And rather than the Christians dwelling in Hell forever – it will be the Muslims.

 

The Christian Jesus

All of this begs a question – where did these concepts come from? 

It’s important to remember here that Muhammad would have had contact with people of various religions during the first 40 years of his life.  That would have included Jews, Christians (including those who taught a false / incorrect version of the Gospels) and the multitude of pagan gods worshiped by people in that part of the world at that time.

So – let’s look deeper into these differences.

One of those closest to God, rather than the Son of God

Four times in the Gospels, we read of Jesus being at the right hand of God.  Note – Muslims do read and believe in the Gospels, especially those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke – although they do have some issues with John’s Gospel.  As the instances are all part of the first three Gospels, this does not present a problem here.

Three of the instances where Jesus are about the same event, so I’ll just put in the first one.  The others are in Mark 14:53-62 and Luke 22:66-69, if you want to read them.

  1. Before the Sanhedrin

    Mt 26:57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. 58 But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.
    Mt 26:59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
    Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’ ”
    Mt 26:62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent.
    The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
    Mt 26:64 “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
    Mt 26:65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?”
    “He is worthy of death,” they answered.
    Mt 26:67 Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68 and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”

There could be some confusion about whether or not Jesus actually said He was the Son of God – since the texts all record Him as saying the Son of Man.  Someone who didn’t know that title was could easily be confused.  It was clearly a reference to Messiah in Jesus’ time –

Son of Man

Definition
A specific concept of a Messianic figure in Jewish and early Christian thought.  1)Witthoff, D. (Ed.). (2014). The Lexham Cultural Ontology Glossary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Just to be complete, here’s a definition for Messiah –

MESSIAH (מָשִׁיַח, mashiyach; “anointed” or “an anointed one”; “messiah”). Rendered into Greek as Χριστός (Christos), cognate to the verb χρίω (chriō, “to anoint”). In this sense, it is essentially the same to say that Jesus is the “Messiah,” or the “Christ.” In contemporary Bible translations, the former is sometimes used when the term is functioning as a title (the Messiah) and the latter when the term is functioning as a name (i.e. Jesus Christ).  2)Strauss, M. L. (2016). Messiah. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

As we know, and as I’ve shown in many previous instances, the use of words change.  For instance, “hallowed” used to be a term that was reserved for very special cases.  These days, it has even been applied to political institutions.  For more on that, see hallowed be thy name.  

However, to remove all doubt, in Luke recording of events, we see an additional item.  It’s important to remember that Luke was a physician, and it was inherent in him to record things exactly.  Therefore, it’s not surprising to see additional details in his account.

Lk 22:66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 “If you are the Christ,’” they said, “tell us.”
Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
Lk 22:70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”
He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”

Also not surprising in this account is that those questioning Jesus – the chief priests and teachers of the law – knew exactly what Jesus meant when He said He was the Son of Man.  These Jewish leaders knew full well that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah – the Son of God.

That someone 600 years later may not have this same level of knowledge is also not surprising.
That’s why research into context, language usage at the time the words were spoken / written, both the original and the translation – is so important.

Of the 23 times in the Gospels that the phrase Son of God is recorded, only one was from Jesus.  Interestingly enough, that one time is from John’s Gospel.  (Remember, Muslims take issue with parts of John’s work.)  Here it is –

Jn 5:16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17 Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” 18 For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Jn 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.
Jn 5:24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
Jn 5:28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

I guess it’s pretty obvious why someone who didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God would take issue with what John recorded.

Having said that – it’s most interesting to see who did use the title Son of God –

the first two times –

The Temptation of Jesus

4:1-11 pp — Mk 1:12, 13; Lk 4:1-13

Mt 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Mt 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’”
Mt 4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’’”
Mt 4:7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’’”
Mt 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Mt 4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’’”
Mt 4:11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

the third time –

The Healing of Two Demon-possessed Men

8:28-34 pp — Mk 5:1-17; Lk 8:26-37

Mt 8:28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
Mt 8:30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
Mt 8:32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Even Satan and the demons call Jesus Son of God.

So – why the confusion?  Why might Islam teach Jesus is not the Son of God?

 

One very likely scenario is this – due to the nature of the Arab culture and his family background, Muhammad was know to have come in contact, as we said earlier, with people of many “religions” – including pagans.  There was also a version of Christianity that he would have come in contact with – the Nestorians.  

That is a problem.

From the UnOfficial home page of the Nestorian Church, there is a hymn that they says states “briefly and clearly: the theology of that church –

One is Christ the Son of God,
Worshiped by all in two natures;
In His Godhead begotten of the Father,
Without beginning before all time;
In His humanity born of Mary,
In the fullness of time, in a body united;
Neither His Godhead is of the nature of the mother,
Nor His humanity of the nature of the Father;
The natures are preserved in their Qnumas*,
In one person of one Sonship.
And as the Godhead is three substances in one nature,
Likewise the Sonship of the Son is in two natures, one person.
So the Holy Church has taught.

You may have already seen some problems there.  Something that’s a problem for “mainstream” Christian churches.

First – all the “natures”.

One is Christ the Son of God,
Worshiped by all in two natures;

And as the Godhead is three substances in one nature,
Likewise the Sonship of the Son is in two natures, one person

This is not at all what Jesus taught, what the early church of the Bible taught, or what I call the “mainstream” Christian churches today.  However – someone coming across this as their way of learning about Christianity would certainly be confused.  And it’s not like someone could have ‘Googled” this issue back in the 7th century.

Second – Jesus in His humanity

In His humanity born of Mary,

OK – that sure sounds like Jesus isn’t God.  It’s a problem made by the Nestorian insistence on separating Jesus the person from Jesus the Son of God.  Rather than accept it as a mystery of God as to how this could be, they had to force Jesus to be something they could understand.

Third – it just keeps getting more muddled

Neither His Godhead is of the nature of the mother,
Nor His humanity of the nature of the Father;

It’s hard enough to describe God (or anyone) by what He is – but trying to do it in the negative by talking about what He isn’t – that leaves a whole lot to question about what’s left after the negatives are taken away.

Did Jesus really die on the cross?

This is interesting.

At the time, the followers of Jesus didn’t yet understand what was happening when Jesus died on the cross – in spite of everything Jesus had told them about what was to come.  They were emotionally crushed and defeated at Jesus’ death on the cross.

The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead – but they didn’t want Him resurrected, since that would have proved Jesus’ claims about being the Messiah and that He would be resurrected on the third day.  Having that prophesy come true was the last thing the Jewish leaders wanted to see happen.  As such, we read this account after some of the women had already seen the resurrected Jesus –

The Guards’ Report

Mt 28:11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

That story is still circulating today – in 2017 – nearly 2000 years later, even in books and in movies.

We’ve seen so far that the Muslim Jesus isn’t the Son of God and didn’t die on the cross.

There’s another side to this question as well – one that I’ll write about in the next part of this series.
It’s a question that goes beyond “did Jesus die on the cross” – and goes to “why Jesus had to die on the cross.

It something that brings up yet another core difference between Christianity and Islam.
And it has major implications.

 

 

Series Navigation<< I can’t read – in The Bible and The Qur’an

References   [ + ]

1. Witthoff, D. (Ed.). (2014). The Lexham Cultural Ontology Glossary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
2. Strauss, M. L. (2016). Messiah. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Please leave a comment - it's nice to hear from you