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Jesus In The Quran and The Bible

Written by: by Jamal Badawi :: (View All Articles by: Jamal Badawi)

Introdution

All praise is due to Allah, the sole Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and may his peace and blessings be upon his last Prophet and Messenger of Allah and all the prophets that preceded him.

I greet you with the greeting of Islam which is ``Assalamu Alaikum'' which means may the peace, blessings and mercy of Allah be upon you all.

I find that this topic one of the most interesting and relevant ones in Muslim-Christian relations; the reason being that among the Abrahamic monotheistic religion, that is Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Jesus is a common link between the the religions of Islam and Christianity. In fact, according to the text of the Qur'an, a Muslim cannot be a true Muslims if he rejects Jesus (peace be upon him); and Jesus is in fact regarded as one of the five greatest prophets of history, the others being Noah, Moses, Abraham and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). In fact the Prophet echoes these sentiments when he says that ``I am the closest in love to Jesus, Son of Mary, in this life and the hereafter''. Prophet Muhammad is believed by Muslims to be the final prophet.

The second point I would like to make is that while belief in Jesus is a common link between Islam and Christianity, nearly all theological differences between Islam and Christianity center around the nature of Jesus; but this issue has not only been an issue between Muslims and Christians, but also among Christians themselves, historically. There have been strong Unitarian movements who believed in Jesus as a human. Even, today there is stil a big discussion whether Jesus is God incarnate or the messenger of God.

How do we address this issue? There are a number of ways. One approach would be to examing the authenticity of both Christian and Muslim sources, and see which one is more authentic. Are the books purely the word of God or are they subject to human addition and interpretation? Another approach is to examine the history of dogma itself, and where the idea of the deity of Jesus itself comes from - did it exist in other cultures? However, my approach today is a little different. While not denying the validity of the last two approaches, we will look at it in a down-to-earth way. I will simply look at Islam and Christianity, accepting as correct both religions.

 


The status of Jesus in the Qur'an

No less than 11 chapters of the Qur'an (out of 114) mention Jesus or his teachings. In fact one of the chapters is called Mariam (Mary), the mother of Jesus. The praise is not only given to Jesus, but to Jesus' family in to which he was born. The Qur'an does not question the virgin birth, and talks of it as one of the signs of Allah's ultimate power, and describes Jesus as a word from God, not the word from God. We are all vreated by the creative command of God ``be''. He is also a ``spirit'' from God, not the ``spirit'' of God.

In the Qur'an, Jesus is described as one of those whom is nearest to God. He is also described as a pure child, like all children (there is no concept of original sin in Islam). It also says that he is strengthened by the Holy Spirit as were all prophets, and that he performed miracles by the permission of Allah, not by himself, and that his message was not different from that of other prophets, that is to worship the one true God, and the God of all humanity. Furthermore, it states that his mission was limited to the Israelites and not intended for the whole of mankind, in preparation of the message of mankind conveyed by Muhammad. The Qur'an also denounces the idea of the Trinity.

The Qur'an also acknowledges a conspiracy to destroy Jesus, but it says that he was not killed or crucified, but it so appeared to them. Even if however, Jesus was crucified, this would be no different, since there were other prophets that were crucified - as John the Baptist was martyred.

Finally, the Qur'an indicates that there may in fact be two links - all prophets (Jesus included) told of one final prophet that God promised Abraham. We all know that Israelite prophets came from the second son of Abraham, what about his first son, Ishmael (Mohammed is a descendant of Ishmael)?


The status of Jesus in the Bible from a Muslim perspective

It must be noted that this is not purely a Muslim perspective - and that a number of Christian theologians share the views expressed by Muslims. For example, Victor Wierwhile, a theologian and committed Chrsitian, who has written a book entitled ``Jesus Christ is not God'', which is surprisingly consistent with the views that Muslims hold.

The deity of Jesus seems to have been built on four ideas:

 

The testimony of his contemporaries

The question is that even if people said that Jesus was a deity, is that a sufficeint basis to establish a fundamental aspect of faith upon? If some Hindu comes to me and says that Gandhi was an incarnation of God and produces a million witnesses, is that sufficient for me to accept this, especially if Gandhi did not claim this himself?

Secondly, some people interpret the bible in a very literal way. A lot of disciples were extremely impressed with the manners and behaviour of Jesus and used exaggerated terms, so that when they said the saw God in Jesus it did not mean that they literally saw God in Jesus, but that this was a poetic way of saying they saw the characteristics of a pious, God-fearing person in Jesus, and to show their love for him.

 

The claims that Jesus made about himself

The issue of the authenticity of the Bible arises and is a significant issue in documenting what Jesus said. To this day, we do not have a complete documentation of what Jesus said, written in the original Aramaic, during Jesus' lifetime, with sufficient proof of authenticity. Even, however, taking it as face value, let's consider some of the instances where Jesus supposedly claimed that he was God:

 

  • ``I am the truth, the way, the light - nobody comes to the father except through me'': Many Muslims would accept this without any qualms, since all this is a statement that Jesus is a prophet of God and speaks on behalf of God. In other words, the way to the ``Father'' is by following Jesus' teachings.
  • ``I and the father are one'': What does ``one'' mean? Jesus said to his disciples ``You and I are one'', and thus all disciples are part of God (including at that time Judas).``One'' here means oneness in purpose, not in character.
  • ``Whoever has seen me, has seen God'': ``seen'' here indicates understanding in the same way that it is used in phrases such as: ``Do you see my point?''
  • ``Before Abraham, I am'': Does the phrase used ``I am'' indicated definite God-ness? Similarly in the ``original'' Greek terms used in Exodus and the Gospels are different. There is also an important point that everything existed in the knowledge of God before its creation so ``it was'', even before Abraham.
  • Jesus accepted worship: Jesus also worshipped God, which doesn't make a lot of sense. Also, ``worships'' isn't necessarily literal. He ``worships'' his wife may mean he really loves his wife.
  • ``Son of God'': 68 times in the New Testament, Jesus was referred to as the ``Son of God'', and not once was he referred to as ``God, the Son''. There is an immense difference in Christian theology between ``God, the Son'' and ``Son of God''. Many prophets in the Old Testament were called ``Sons of God'', including David and Abraham - a ``Son of God'' is merely a pious person.
  • He called God ``Father'': In the Lord's Prayer, we say ``Our Father in Heaven'', so it is not alone our father, but the Father of humanity in an allegorical sense.
  • He is called the ``Messiah'': ``Messiah'' means the ``annointed one'', but several are also called ``messiah''. Similarly, he is not alone in being called ``saviour''. ``Lord'' can also have several meanings (e.g. House of ``Lords''). Lord can also refer to a Teacher (eg the Hebrew word ``Rabbi'').
  • He was filled with the Holy Spirit: So was John the Baptist, even in the womb of his mother.
  • He said ``Heavens and Earth may pass away may pass, but my word is eternal'': Such a statement would only be attributable to God. The Muslim interpretation is, however, that his words are those of God, a fact which Jesus himself acknowledges - that they are not his words, but the words of God.
  • ``All authority in the Heavens and Earth has been given to me'': If this statement is correct, it creates two significant questions. During the time when Jesus had this power, then what was the need for the Father then? Was he stripped of authority? Secondly, who gave them to Jesus, and is it not true that it is better to give than to receive? If so, then there is someone better than Jesus?
  • Thomas says - ``my Lord, my God'' and Jesus did not rebuke him. Dr Wierwhile went back to the ``original'' Greek text on this, and found that it was an emphatic statement, not a statement that he is God.
  • Stoning of Jesus for blasphemy: By violating the Sabbath, this angered the Jews, since he was equating himself with God. Jesus replied that ``Is it not written in your laws that ye are Gods?''

     

Note that there are no explicit statements by Jesus, which is unusual for a topic as fundamental as this. At no stage does Jesus say: ``I am God, so worship me''. In Isaiah, it says God is not an issuer of confusion, but all of the above are liable to interpretation.

Compared with these allegorical statements are a number of conclusive statements that he is not God. This concept is called ``subordination'' in Christian belief.

These include the following statements:

 

  • ``I can do nothing of my own authority'': If one does not have full authority, then he is not God by definition.
  • ``My father is greater than me'': There is no one greater than God.
  • He was tempted. God cannot be tempted.
  • He denied knowledge of the Unseen. ``Even the Son of God does not know the Hour (ie the Day of Judgement). Only the father.'' But knowledge of the unseen is one of the characteristics of divinity.
  • ``He grew up in wisdom and knowldge. He was circumsised'': So he changed. God does not change - a topic of agreement between Muslims and non-Muslims.
  • He refused to be called Good. He deferred to God alone ``goodness''.
  • He prayed himself to God. In Gethsename he prayed to God, by prostrating in a way similar to the way Muslims pray today.
  • He made a distinction between himself and the father.
  • He more often referred to himself as Son of Man that Son of God.

     

The conclusion we can draw from this is that there is a distinction between the religion of Jesus (which was also the religion of Moses, Muhammad and all the other prophets) and the religion about Jesus, which came about after Jesus' death.

 

The miracles he performed

The theory was that God was the only one capable of performing the miracles that Jesus did. But there are parallels of the miracles of Jesus in the Old Testament (mostly performed by Elijah and Elishah) yet no theologian of any faith has deified Elijah and Elishah, simply because they performed miracles. The Qur'an says that when a prophet performs a miracle, then it is not of his own power, but something God has given him. Jesus himself said that he did nothing of his own accord, it is God who made it happen.

 

The imperative of salvation and forgiveness of sin

This seems a rather difficult argument to support, since there is no evidence that Jesus claimed to be deity, and that this was an idea that came later. Can we then create a theorem, to fit the theory that there is no sin without bloodshed and God sacrificed his son?

Even the Pauline notion of salvation needs to be carefully considered. The assumption is that human beings were created perfect, and sin entered into the world by breaking God's command; and thus because one man sinned, all humanity sinned, and because one man dies, all humanity is saved. That raises a serious question: If Adam and Eve were created perfect, how could they disobey God? The Qur'an says that Adam and Eve were created from spirit and clay - they have the potential for good and bad. There are some statements in the Old Testament that God is not interested in the blood of sacrifice, but in your piety.

There is a Hadith Qudsi (words attributed by Muhammad to God, but not part of the Qur'an) in which it says that Allah's mercy far exceeds his anger, and that it is unfair to expect humanity to be perfect, since man was created with both good and bad sides. It would be unfair of Allah not to forgive Adam once he asked forgiveness and acknowledged his mistake.

 

The idea of Mystery of God

Muslims also believe in Mystery - that there are things that cannot be proved or disproved - or things that are difficult for us to fathom - such as the eternity of God, but there is a logic to it, but it is not impossible. If I say however that 1 + 1 = 42, and you tell me that that's wrong, and I say ``No, be humble, faith is mystery, take it as a truth'', then this is not faith, since I can conclusively prove that 1 plus 1 can never be 42. We do not consider self-contradictory statements to be objects of faith.


Questions & Answers

 

What is the Holy Spirit from an Islamic Perspective?

The idea of a Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Qur'an also. But this does not refer to the Christian idea of a Holy Spirit, but to the angel Gabriel.

 

The people whom you quoted are not true Christians and do not accept the Bible as God's Word. This invalidates many of your arguments.

These people are clergy and believe in the Bible, and are professed Christians. They merely interpret the Bible differently.

 

While you are correct that the Apostles are the ones that documented the history of Jesus, and not Jesus' own words, they did see Jesus and the Gospel of John, the Bible says that in the beginning there was the word, and that while no-one has seen God, Jesus made him known to us.

The source of the Gospels are questioned by many Christian scholars. Even so, assuming they were conclusive, I could get thousands to say Buddha was a God and that would not make him one. Such an important issue should not be determined by the points of view of a few individuals.

Secondly on the issues of the Gospel of John, it is considered to be non-synoptic, that is not written by one of the disciples, and shows echoes aspects of Greek philosophy. There are also alternative translations of the words, and not that ``the word was God'', but that ``the word was God's''.

 

There are parts of the Qur'an that use the Arabic form ``Nahnu'' for describing God. Does this mean there is more than one God?

Australia is still governed by the Queen. The Queen never refers to herself as ``I, the Queen''. There is something known in various languages as ``the Royal language'', such as ``we the king''. So if kings have the right to use the royal lagnuage, then the king of kings has the right to use the royal language also.

 

You said that Jesus existed in the foreknowledge of God. Where is that reference?

It was in the writings of Paul, I can't give you an exact reference, but it is quoted in Victor Wierwhile's book.

 

If you do accept that Jesus was crucified, what did Jesus mean when he said ``It is finished?''

This is an issue which Christians themselves have discussed a great deal. In fact they discovered that if you look at the descriptions of the crucifiction of Jesus in the four Gospels, they contain many aspects that are not reconcilable. An example of that is: When did Mary go to visit Jesus? The last words of Jesus are also not reconcilable. In one Gospel it is stated as ``It is finished'' and in another it is stated as ``God, God, why have you forsaken me?'' This has led some people to believe that some of the early Gospels were altered to fit the ideas of philosophy.

 

Does Islam believe that the Bible is the word of God? Does it believe in the Injeel? If the Bible is not the Injeel, what is the Injeel?

Nowhere in the Qur'an does it refer to the Bible as the Bible. The Qur'an uses several terms, besides the leafs of Abraham. It uses the word Tawrat, which creates some confusion since it is not the same as the Olde Testament that is found in the Bible. It is not. What the Qur'an speaks about is the exact words revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, such as the Ten Commandments, and these Muslims can accept without any hesitation. Jews and Christians consider the first five books of the Bible as the Pentateuch or the Torat. In Deuteronomy, one of these books in the end it says: ``Moses, the man of God, died and was buried in the land of Moab''. Obviously, these are not the words Moses received.

There is no reference in the Qur'an to the Gospels (plural) but refers to the Gospel (singular) of Jesus, not the Gospels about Jesus. It does not mean that all the information in the Gospels has no parallel in the Qur'an. There are parts of the Gospels that agree with the Qur'an. A Muslim uses the Qur'an as the criterion for seeing what is correct in other religious texts.

 

How do we know true prophets from false ones?

The Bible itself says that Jesus said that after him there shall be false prophets. When they asked him how to differentiate between them, he said, ``By their fruits ye shall know them''. Of course, this also indicates that there are prophets to come after Jesus. Let us look at the fruits of Muhammad. Polytheists who used to worship idols came to worship one True God. People who used to bury girls alive were taught the status and importance of women. People who used to drink like fish, to the point where in poetry one of them asked for a vineyard to be planted on his grave, so that he could taste wine, became teetotallers, in a way that no laws have ever succeeded in. People who used to practice adultery and fornication became a pure society where one of the hallmarks was high levels of sexual morality. Muslims also contributed to science to the extent that some scholars have said that were it not for Islam much of the Greek writings would be lost, and the Dark Ages in Europe were the renaissance of Islam. There are also many miracles in the Qur'an.

 

Are there references to Muhammad in the Bible?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes a Paracletos. First of all, he says the world did not know him before. Although most Christian theologians say that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit was known at the time of the baptism. He said he will complete the truth to them - i.e new revelations. There is no evidence that the Holy Spirit had any revelations. He also said that he will reprove the world of sin, but also of Jusgement. To do so, he would not only have to be a Prophet, but also a statesman, as was Moses. He described him as describing what will come. There is no evidence of the Holy Spirit prophesying anything. There were numerous prphecies made by the Prophet have turned out to be true.

Response from an audience member: The world didn't know the Holy Spirit, because it was hostile to God and the Holy Spirit's presence.

Dr Jamal's response: It is quite obvious that he is describing someone who has not appeared yet. It says in the Bible that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. He says ``one like me'' - that is not as a person.

Response: The Holy Spirit did reveal his message to Paul.

Dr Jamal: The original Greek it says God will send another Paracletos, where the another signifies another like me. Jesus himself is described as a paracletos in the original Greek. The term Paracletos is used five times in the New Testament, and once in the first epistle of John, yet for some reason the translators of the Gospel they translated as Holy Spirit, but the one in epistle of John they translate it as ``mediator'' and Jesus is described as this mediator.

Response: <reads section referring to that part and questions how Muhammad will always be with us.>

Dr Jamal: The teachings of the Prophet will persist after his death, and that is how it will remain. In addition, he does not exclusively address those with him, but those that follow him. Furthermore Muhammad fulfills the role of defending Jesus from all extremes of deification and degradation.

Response: In one case Jesus is a mediator and so is the Holy spirit - they are both mediators and both can serve as mediators.

Dr Jamal: The argument John Mackenzie makes is that you can't have your cake and eat it too. You either always translate it as ``mediator'' or as Holy Spirit - you don't subjectively change the meaning to convey certain desirable theological points of view. Secondly, the idea of Jesus as a mediator seems unusual, since Jesus is himself God. God does mediate to himself. It has to be someone else other than God.

 

Could you explain the Islamic point of view of the end of Jesus' life?

The question revolves around interpretations of the Qur'an. The Arabic is ``Inni Mutawaffika'' of which one translation ``I will make you dead''. Furthermore to be fair, we could strengthen the other argument by saying that in the Qur'an it says that Jesus said: ``Peace be upon me the day that I was born, the day that I died and the day that I will be resurrected'', allegedly a clear reference to the resurrection of Jesus. That is not necessarily correct. ``Tawaffa'' means ``completing a term'' - such as when you end the term of a contract, which does not necessarily mean he died. Muslims do also believe that Jesus will come back at a period of peace and will clarify the stance of Christianity with regards to him.

 

Mohammed prophesied about 600 years after Jesus. By that time the New Testament was standardised. Which book do we go to as truth?

Yes there are some earlier manuscripts that precede the third century. The oldest versions of the Bible go to the third, fourth, fifth centuries. Even so, two hundred years is a big gap. No-one I know claims that the words of Jesus were recorded and preserved for the intermediate 200 years unaffected by the teachings of Paul and other theological concepts. I beg to differ that all the Bibles standardised and were identical, for example, the ending of John's Gospel. Why does the Qur'an refer to the scriptures of the People of the Book? The Qur'an actually describes itself as ``confirming what remains intact of that revealed before it and a guardian over it''. A learned Muslim would never say that the Bible is completely incorrect, nor that it is correct, but that there are parts of it revealed, and other parts that are human writings.

How does the Muslim know which is which? He uses the Qur'an as the guardian - as the ``quality control'' agent, if you like. The Arabic word is ``Muhaymin'' - a supervisor, if you like.

 

You said that you question the eyewitness accounts in the Bible. But they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Muslims do believe in inspiration. But the main difference is that my inspiration is not binding on you, your inspiration is not binding on me, and if the inspiration contradicts the Qur'an and Sunnah, then it is not from God, but from Satan. Thus inspiration is not a basis to establish theology upon.

Response: The Bible says that Jesus said all the apostles were prophets and thus received revelation.

Dr Jamal: With all due respect, we do not give authority to opinions of followers. Even if the followers of Muhammad claimed to be prophets we would not believe them.

 


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