Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jauziyyah was a prominent Muslim jurist during Islam’s Golden Age. Apart from his jurisdistic prowess, he was also competent in composing qasidah (Arabic poetry). Among his more famous works was the qasidah entitled A’obbad al-Maseeh Fi Naqd al-Nasraniyyah(O Christ-Worshippers! In Refuting Christianity). This qasidah is well-known in the Muslim world and has even been turned into a song.
The following is the English translation of the poetry from the Arabic original.
O Christ-worshippers! We want an answer to our question [from your wise ones],
If the Lord was murdered by some people’s act, what kind of god is this?
We wonder! Was He pleased by what they did to Him?
If yes, blessed be they, they achieved His pleasure,
But if He was discontented, this means their power had subjugated Him!
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]as the whole entity left without a Sustainer, so who answered the prayers?
Were the heavens vacated, when He laid under the ground somewhere?
Were all the worlds left without a God, to manage while His hands were nailed?
Why did not the angels help Him, when they heard him while he wailed?
[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ow could the rods stand to bear the True Lord when He was fastened,
How could the irons reached Him and [had] His body pinned?
How could His enemies’ hands reach Him and slap His rear,
And was Christ revived by himself, or was the Reviver another god?
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat a sight it was, a grave that enclosed a god,
Stranger still is the belly that confined Him!
He stayed there for nine months in utter darkness, fed by blood!
Then he got out of the womb as a small baby,
Weak and gasping to be breast-fed!
He ate and drank, and did what that naturally resulted,1
Is this [what you call] a god?
High Exalted be Allah above the lies of Christians,
All of them will be held accountable for their libels!
[dropcap]O[/dropcap] Cross-worshippers! For what reason is this exalted
and blame [is cast upon those] who reject it?
Is it not logical to break and burn it, along with the one who innovated it?2
Since the Lord was crucified on it, and his hands were fastened to it?
That is really a cursed cross to carry,
So discard it, do not kiss it!3
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Lord was abused on it, and you adore it?
So [it is clear that] you are one of His enemies!
If you extol it because it carried the Lord of the Worlds,
Why don’t you prostrate yourself and worship graves,
Since the grave contained your god in it?4
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]o Christ-worshipper, open your eyes,
This is what the matter is all about.
Instead of writing a full-scale biography of Jesus of Nazareth, I want to focus on some aspects of the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth that are commonly overlooked by most Christians. Any attempt to reconstruct the historical Jesus (as distinct from the incarnate deity of ecclesiastical faith) needs to take into account all the recoverable data about Jesus, much of which has been ignored by many Christians because of its’ embarrassment to Christian orthodoxy. Jesus’ reported sayings in the Gospels are frequently subjected to tortuous exegesis by fundamentalist Christians to make them fit later church tradition. Paradoxically, the data has been critically examined by none other than Christian scholars themselves.
It is the time-honoured Christian practice to read the New Testament gospels through the perspective of centuries of later church tradition. This later tradition developed in a very different environment to the milieu of Second Temple Judaism. Certain titles and expressions which had been used of or by Jesus underwent a radical semantic shift, resulting (to give but one example) in a title such as ‘son of God‘ acquiring a totally new and non-Jewish meaning in the Hellenistic world of the third and fourth centuries. The Catholic Church came to redefine the ontology of the man from Nazareth into categories of Greek philosophy and metaphysics. Thus, the charismatic healer and prophet from Nazareth became a God. The doctrine of the Incarnation of God in Jesus has always scandalised Jews and, later, Muslims would also find it blasphemous, an unacceptable Christian dogma.
Western biblical scholarship since the Enlightenment has tried to strip away these ideological accretions and uncover, as much as possible, the real Jesus of history: Jesus the Messiah, a prophet of God. There is an extraordinary resemblance between the historical picture produced by many biblical scholars and the Jesus of the Qur’an. This convergence has not gone unnoticed in recent works by New Testament scholars who see in it an exciting opportunity for rapprochement between the two Abrahamic faiths (I cite two examples in my conclusion below).
I want to explore four key issues that reveal crucial aspects of the teaching and life of Jesus that are commonly obscured or even suppressed by traditional Christian apologetics and piety – whether Evangelical or Roman Catholic.
N.B. There is a Glossary of unfamiliar terms at the end of this essay and Suggestions for Further Reading if you wish to explore the subject further.
The Key Issues
The key issues I will explore come under four chapter headings:
Chapter 1: The Jewish Law: Jesus did not declare all foods clean
Chapter 2: What Jesus taught about ‘being saved’, or inheriting eternal life (and what St Paul wrote)
Chapter 3: Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as predicting his own death: difficulties with taking this at face value
Chapter 4: Jesus did not claim to be the Creator of the universe
We will be covering these issues in the following sections.
Chapter 1: The Jewish Law — Jesus did not declare all foods clean
It is widely believed that Jesus taught and declared that all foods are clean, that is, it is permissible for his followers to consume every kind of meat. However, purported sayings of Jesus in Matthews’ gospel suggest otherwise.
At the beginning of his ministry Jesus is reported to have taught his disciples this crucial teaching:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven1
(All quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible)
Towards the end of his teaching ministry, eighteen chapters later, we are told Jesus said:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach2
When Jesus said this, he must have known that any Rabbi would say you could not eat pork, as it says in Leviticus 11:7-8:
And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.
If you look at another New Testament book called the Acts of the Apostles you will read that at a council held in Jerusalem, the disciples ruled that all believers must stay away from
Food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from the meat of strangled animals (Acts 15:29)
Incidentally, St Paul is reported to have agreed with this decision. Blood is not to be eaten, nor the meat of strangled animals because they would have the blood still in them (see Leviticus 17:10-12)
For the meat to be fit for eating the blood must be properly drained out of the animal (see v 13). The disciples knew their Bible and acted accordingly.
Nevertheless, many Christians think that in the book of Acts the disciples were told to give up obeying the Law on unclean foods. To support this assumption they refer to Acts 10 where Peter has a vision, in which a voice tells him,
do not call anything impure that God has made clean (verse 15)
It is important to read this verse in its complete context. If you have a copy of the New Testament to hand, I recommend you read the book of Acts, chapter 10, verses 1-35.
If you have read the whole passage, you will see that this vision was not about clean and unclean foods, but about clean and unclean people. The voice from heaven told Peter that human beings should not be called ‘unclean’ just because they did not belong to Israel. Peter wondered about the meaning of the vision (vv. 17, 19). Then he explains what he understood to be the import of the vision:
He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with Gentiles or visit them. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. (Acts 10:28)
I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right (Acts: 10:34)
So it is evident that, contrary to what many Christians assume, Peter did not proclaim that all foods were now clean. Indeed, if we look at Acts 15 again, at the council of Jerusalem the disciples ruled that all believers must stay away from,
Food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from the meat of strangled animals (Acts 15:29)
It may be of interest to note that these prohibitions are mentioned in the Qur’an too,
You are forbidden to eat carrion; blood; pig’s meat; any animal over which any name other than God’s has been invoked; any animal strangled, or anything sacrificed on idolatrous altars3
(All quotations are from The Qur’an: a new translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem published by Oxford University Press, 2004)
A Very Curious Phenomenon
I have not mentioned a very curious phenomenon so far. According to Mark’s Gospel 7:18-19, Jesus supposedly said this:
Don’t you see that nothing that enters you from the outside can defile you? For it doesn’t go into your heart but into your stomach, and then out of your body. (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)
The words in parenthesis were added by Mark and were not spoken by Jesus.
An alert reader would have noticed that this statement directly contradicts the passages quoted above (Matthew, 5:17-20; 23:1-2; Acts, Chapters 10 and 15).
In these passages it is evident that the disciples were not told to abandon kosher food laws by Jesus and that they had to struggle with the difficult question of whether or not the Torah laws could be relaxed for converts (it is crucial to note that the issue was how the gentile converts should live, and not the disciples themselves who continued to observe the Torah).
Christian scholars have faced this problem with commendable honesty. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (ed. R. Brown et al, Prentice Hall, 1990) is a prestigious work of Roman Catholic biblical scholarship with contributions from top scholars in America and the UK.
Again the problem: If Jesus had been so explicit about the observance of Jewish food laws, why were there so many debates on this matter in the early church? (p. 612)
In historical fact Jesus did not abolish the ceremonial law as such since otherwise the struggles of the early church recorded in Galatians, Acts 10 and 15 would be unintelligible (p. 658)
Therefore, I would conclude that Mark has probably read the attitude of the church of his time and place back into the original sayings of Jesus. Mark is usually believed to have written his Gospel about 65-70AD for a non-Jewish audience, a generation after Jesus. The Hellenization of Jesus is already well underway!
The Plot Thickens!
Now this is not the end of the matter. There is a further complication to consider.
Three different positions are possible to adopt concerning Jesus’ real teaching about the Old Testament Law. They are:
i. Jesus completely abolished the OT law.
ul>In the light of the discussion so far we might be forgiven if we are tempted to dismiss this possibility straight away. But it is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:15. Paul says that Jesus,
Set aside in his flesh the law with its commands and its regulations
In Paul’s letter to the Romans 14:20 he says unequivocally:
All food is clean
In 1 Timothy 4:1-3 Paul (though most scholars do not think the apostle Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles, I assume Pauline authorship for arguments sakes) even condemns those people (James and the other apostles?) who order people to abstain from certain foods, and accuses them of abandoning the true faith and following demons!
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods.
Finally, as if it were not clear enough already, Paul in his letter to the Colossians 2:14 claims that Jesus
cancelled the written code, with its regulations…
ii. Jesus taught that the Torah was still to be followed in its entirety.
The Letter of James, to be found towards the end of the New Testament, assumes the continuing normativity of the law,
For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you become a law-breaker. 2:10-11
As we have seen even Jesus is quoted as saying that no one should think he came to abolish the law, but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17). Furthermore, Jesus continues,
Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven Matthew (5:19)
So even the smallest command in the Torah should be adhered to.
However, paradoxically, even in Matthew’s Gospel we read of Jesus cancelling some Old Testament Laws.
The Law of Moses states in Deuteronomy 24:1,
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…
In Mathew 5:31 Jesus clearly cancels the Law about divorce and issues a new commandment to replace it,
It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.” But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery
iii. Jesus confirmed the continuing validity of Torah Law in general but abrogated some specific laws.
This view is a mediating position between positions i and ii above and makes best sense of all the evidence. Confirmation of the correctness of this interpretation is found in Holy Qur’an, a book sent by God to discern what is true and what is false in previous books. Jesus says,
I have come to confirm the truth of the Torah which preceded me, and to make some things lawful to you which used to be forbidden…(3:50)
Now, some readers might think this argument is a tendentious ploy to prove the Qur’an right. So it is instructive to reflect on the findings of Christian scholars who have wrestled with this problem:
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary makes the following observations:
The problem arises because the plain sense of the words is that Jesus affirms the abiding validity of the Torah; but this contradicts Paul (e.g. Gal 2:5, 16; Rom 3:21-31). Moreover no major Christian church requires observance of all 613 precepts of the OT law, (p.641)
If Matthew is right about Jesus in chapters 5 and 23 then:
There is a gap between the teaching here and the teaching and practice of the churches p.641
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (p. 641) suggests that even if we deny the genuineness of Matthew 5:17-20,
The denial of the authenticity of 17, 19, and 20 does not make Jesus hold the same view as Paul.
The Commentary suggests that these verses,
Reflect the outlook of Jewish Christianity, which, as a separate movement, was eventually defeated by Paulinism [churches influenced by Paul] and died out, perhaps to be reborn in a different form as Islam. (Emphasis added) – p. 641.
This quotation is an acknowledgement from top biblical scholars that Islam has much in common with the practice of the earliest followers of Jesus.
Paul, as we know, had very different views.
As far as modern Christians are concerned, Paul won his fight and they follow him p.641
The authors of the Commentary hold the view that neither Matthew nor Paul is entirely correct. They admit,
There are contradictions within the New Testament on penultimate matters p.641
As we have seen, the Qur’an has provided us with the key to finding the authentic teaching of Jesus on the Law. As I discuss in the conclusion, recent studies have demonstrated the extraordinary resemblance between the historical picture of Jesus produced by many biblical scholars and the Jesus of the Qur’an. How is this so? Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad via the archangel Gabriel, and intended as a guide for all times and places. Unlike the Bible we have today which contains Jesus’ words in an often corrupted and altered state, God has given mankind a book free from any errors, contradictions or alterations by man.
That said, I would like to reiterate that my discussion of the food laws in the Gospels has not been ‘tainted’ or derived through Qur’anic lenses. Putting the Qur’an aside and studying the Gospels according to the methodologies of historical enquiry – we would end up with a Jesus who has an uncanny resemblance with the Jesus presented by the Qur’an. Thus in the case of clean and unclean food, most scholars believe that the historical Jesus did not nullify the OT food laws. I recommend the discussion of this issue in The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders, pp. 218-223 (see my suggestions for further reading below).
(I am indebted to Shabir Ally, President of the Islamic Information and Da’wah Centre International, Canada, for various suggestions contained in his excellent pamphlet What God said about Eating Pork, Al-Attique Publishers Inc. Canada, Second Edition 2003).
Chapter 2: What Jesus taught about ‘being saved’, or inheriting eternal life; what St Paul later wrote about salvation
If the reader has followed the discussion thus far he or she will have some idea of the difficulties facing the student in attempting to uncover Jesus’ true message from the many retrospective changes made to Jesus’ teaching.
Here I will simply put side-by-side two answers to the following question: How is a human being to attain eternal life, that is, how are we saved? The first answer is given by Jesus and the second answer by St Paul. Fundamentalist Christians often put this vital question to Muslims. They tell Muslims that if they want to be saved they need only put their ‘faith in Jesus’. The reader can judge for himself if these Christians are being faithful to Jesus’ teaching or not.
In Mark’s Gospel 10:17-19 we read,
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher’, he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No-one is good – except God alone.
You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother
Here is St Paul’s answer to the same question in Romans 10:9.
If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved
The differences are startling. Jesus’ answer to the question about salvation focuses on obedience to the Torah. As a Prophet to the Jewish people, Jesus sees his faithfulness to God expressed in adherence to the Creator’s commands and precepts in the Torah.
For Paul, however, writing decades later, the Law itself has been abolished, and in place of faithfulness to the Creator, we are asked to put our trust in an event no human being witnessed – the alleged resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and the ‘Lordship’ of Jesus.
Chapter 3: Jesus is portrayed in the gospels as predicting his own death: difficulties with taking this at face value
Did Jesus clearly announce his suffering and death to his disciples? Or did his arrest, crucifixion and reported resurrection take them completely by surprise? We will briefly survey these questions in this chapter.
The synoptic gospels contain six separate instances in which Jesus predicts his suffering and death, and four times he predicts his resurrection. Here are three examples from Mark and one from Luke.
And he charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again Mark 8:30-31
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the son of man should have risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant…And he said to them,…How is it written of the son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? Mark 9:9-10
But while they were all marvelling at everything he did, he said to his disciples, Let these words sink into your ears; for the son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men. But they did not understand this saying…and they were afraid to ask him about this saying. Luke 9:43-45
And they were on the road, going to Jerusalem…And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him saving, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise. Mark 10:32-34
Note the detailed prediction in Mark 10:32-34 (in bold) and how clear and unambiguous it is.
I wish to make the following observations on these passages:
1. According to the evangelists (with one exception, Matt. 12:40), all of the predictions were made during the final period of his life. They are all solemn in tone: ‘Let these words sink into your ears…’ They are not mysterious but expressed in plain language. There is no doubt that Jesus had put the disciples in the picture about soon to transpire events, at least six times.
2. Yet how did these same disciples react when the recently foretold events started to occur? At the critical time between his arrest and execution, absolutely no one seems to have remembered the repeated warnings concerning the events leading to the cross. All Jesus’ disciples fled when he was arrested (Mark 14:50). When Peter was confronted he denied having anything to do with Jesus or that he even knew him (Mark 14:66-71). None of the apostles (or his family) went with him to Golgotha, according to the Synoptic Gospels.
3. Jesus would certainly have had good grounds for believing that an attempt would be made on his life and that he may get killed. However, at the same time he prayed that God would save him from death. ‘Father, everything is possible with you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will‘ Mark 14:36
4. All the apostles were initially extremely reluctant to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Amazingly, after the death of Jesus and the women had returned from the tomb, the disciples ‘did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense’ Luke 24:11. The Greek word for nonsense is leros which literally means ‘silly nonsense’.
5. Would a group of people who had been assured in advance by their charismatic and prophetic teacher that the tragic events would be followed promptly by a happy ending have shown such deep disbelief? Even if we allow for the initial shock and fear caused by the arrest of Jesus at night, the apostles should surely have remembered the chain of events so often and so recently rehearsed before them by Jesus.
6. The evangelists had to provide some explanation for this curious phenomenon to ensure the credibility of their stories.
7. All the Gospels end up by laying the blame on the disciples themselves for failing to grasp or simply forgetting (!) the predictions of Jesus.
So we are faced with something of a historical dilemma:
Either Jesus did not, in fact, predict the events, and the weakness and disbelief of the disciples are quite natural and understandable.
Or he did, in fact, warn them, and the ignominious behaviour of every single one of the disciples is quite inexplicable!
Weighing up the pros and cons, at a distance of 2000 years, leads me to think that it is much more likely that the Evangelists invented the predictions and inserted them into their story (or it could also be that the predictions were fabricated prior to the composition of the Gospels and came to the authors though tradition), than all concerned should suddenly forget those clear, detailed and repeated warnings. Fabricated prophecies after the event are known to exist elsewhere in the Gospels. Matthew even went so far as to invent a prophecy about Jesus from the Old Testament: ‘he shall be called a Nazarene‘, see Matthew 2:23. There is no such passage anywhere in the Old Testament! Scholars call this genre of ‘creative’ writing pesher interpretation, and it was widely used by the teachers of the Qumran community in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
We have seen that the final form of the Gospels is self-contradictory and occasionally bizarre. The apostles are portrayed as having no idea what rising from the dead meant (Mark 9:10), though historians are aware that the idea of resurrection was widely understood amongst 1st century Jews. The evangelists tried to excuse the disciples by saying that not only did they not understand Jesus, but also the meaning of his words was hidden from them.
In the attempt to give the Gospels some coherence and sense the evangelists make the apostles look extremely dense and dim-witted, hardly the reliable people Jesus would have chosen to continue his mission!
(I am indebted to Professor Geza Vermes, Director of the Forum for Qumran Research at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, for various suggestions contained in his book The Authentic Gospel of Jesus)
Chapter 4: Did Jesus claim to be the Creator of the universe?
The short and incontrovertible answer is No! The fact that later generations of Christians came to believe that Jesus is ‘God from God, light from light, true God from true God’ (as stated in the Nicene Creed) is therefore in need of some explanation.
In this chapter, I will look at two historical phenomena which I hope will give us some understanding of this development. They are:
i) the traditional Christian belief that to confess Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ is to confess his deity, and to say that ‘Jesus is the Son of God’ means and always meant that Jesus is the pre-existent, second person of the Trinity, who ‘for us men and our salvation became incarnate’.
ii) An illuminating historical parallel to the divinization of Jesus: the divinization of the Buddha
i) The New Testament (NT) calls Jesus ‘the Son of God’. But what does this mean? It is important, if we wish to adopt a historical approach (and most Christians do not), to discover the significance of words and ideas in their original language, as the original speakers meant the original listeners to understand them. Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew, and spoken by most Palestinian Jews. Jesus’ Aramaic teaching (except for a dozen words that are still found in the gospels) has not been preserved.
In the years after Jesus was taken up to God, the early church spread quickly in the Greek-speaking (i.e. non-Jewish) world, and the gospels and letters that came to comprise the NT were all written down in Greek. It is important to grasp that this Greek NT is a ‘translation’ of the original thoughts and ideas of the Aramaic thinking and speaking Jesus, a translation not just into a totally different language but also a transplantation of the thought of the gospels into an utterly alien cultural and religious environment of the pagan Graeco-Roman world.
To discover the authentic teaching of Jesus, and what others believed about him, it is, therefore, necessary to be alert to any changes or developments in meaning arising from the transmission of ideas through the channel of Hellenistic culture.
Therefore, when we examine the term “son of God” in its original ‘context of meaning’ we make an interesting discovery. In Hebrew or Aramaic “son of God” is always used figuratively as a metaphor for a child of God, whereas in Greek addressed to Gentile Christians, brought up in a religious culture filled with gods, sons of gods and demigods, the NT expression tended to be understood literally as ‘Son of God’ (with a capital letter): in other words as someone possessing the same nature as God.
In the fourth century, the Catholic Church officially endorsed this new pagan idea at the Council of Nicea: Jesus was declared to be of the same ‘substance’ or ‘nature’ (the Greek word used was ousia) as the Deity. Pagan philosophy triumphed over the Jewish understanding of God.
The same transformation, or rather deformation of meaning occurred to another key term: ‘Lord‘. According to the gospels, the title ‘lord’ was regularly used as an address to Jesus during his ministry. In its Aramaic context, it was synonymous with ‘teacher’.
Later generations of Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians would completely alter this meaning: the Aramaic definition of ‘Lord’ = teacher became synonymous with the title of God himself: the Lord Jesus = the Lord your God. As noted NT scholar James Dunn comments, expressing the consensus view of New Testament scholars (including NT Wright who is much beloved of evangelicals),
The history of this confession of Jesus as Lord in earliest Christianity largely revolves around the question, How significant is the application of this title to Jesus? What role or status does this confession attribute to Jesus or recognises as belonging to Jesus?…The problem is that ‘lord’ can denote a whole range of dignity – from a respectful form of address as to a teacher or judge to a full title for God. Where do the early Christian references to the lordship of Jesus come within this spectrum? The answer seems to be that over the first few decades of Christianity the confession of Jesus as ‘Lord’ moved in overt significance from the lower end of the ‘spectrum of dignity’ towards the upper end steadily gathering to itself increasing overtones of deity.
We need not doubt that the Aramaic mari underlies the Greek kyrie (vocative)…Mar was used of the first century BC holy man Abba Hilkiah, presumably in recognition of the charismatic powers attributed to him. Moreover, ‘lord’ was largely synonymous with ‘teacher’ at the time of Jesus, and Jesus was certainly recognised to have the authority of a rabbi or teacher (Mark 9:5 etc). We can, therefore, say that the confession of Jesus as Lord was rooted in the ministry of Jesus to the extent that he was widely acknowledged to exercise the authority of a (charismatic) teacher and healer (cf. Mark 1:22,27).
Whether ‘Lord’ already had a higher significance for Jesus himself during his ministry depends on how we evaluate Mark 12:35-37:
‘While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:
‘ “The Lord said to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand
Until I put your enemies
Under your feet.”‘
David himself calls him “Lord”. How then can he be his son?’
Even if it contains an authentic word of the historical Jesus (as is quite possible) it needs only mean that he understood Messiah to be a figure superior to David in significance and especially favoured by Yahweh. It does not necessarily imply that he thought the Messiah was a divine figure (Psalm 110 after all probably referred to the king).
From: Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (emphasis in the original) pp.53-54.
So Dunn recognises that the title ‘lord’ originally denoted a human being. As the term began to be used in pagan contexts as the Gentile mission spread, where it was well established as a title for the cult deity in the mystery religions (especially Isis and Serapis), and also in Emperor worship – ‘Caesar is Lord’- a radical alteration of the meaning of the term occurred. Above all, St Paul advanced this change in meaning quite deliberately. He uses Old Testament texts that speak of Yahweh and applies them to Jesus (e.g. Romans 10:13). For Paul, ‘Lord Jesus’ had become a title of divinity. In a profound sense, Paul founded the religion of Christianity we know today.
(It is of interest to note that evangelical fundamentalists are bitterly resistant to these historical facts. Typically, they are simply ignored, perhaps in the hope that the evidence will just go away. I have noticed this reluctance to discuss these key issues in my debates with Christians. One of the most articulate spokesmen of Evangelicalism, Andy Bannister, is on record expressing his willingness to debate the historical Jesus, as the reader can see on my blog. However, and I regret to say this is quite typical of Evangelicals, he repeatedly refuses to engage the historical questions I survey in this paper. In reality, Bannister and his colleagues demonstrate no interest in serious debate at all. They advocate what they call a “confrontational” approach to Islam and Muslims, and are a serious menace to harmonious relations between people of different faiths.)
As time passed the title used exclusively by Jesus to describe himself, the ‘Son of man’, came to denote Jesus’ humanity in contrast to his divinity. So in the thought of second-century Catholic theologian Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons), the term ‘Son of God’ is interchangeable with ‘God the Son’. Most Christians today, in total ignorance of the historical transmutation of the meaning of these words, still think this way.
The term ‘son of man’ is a storm centre of New Testament scholarship, and the debate is quite technical. There is no consensus as to its meaning for Jesus or the Judaism of his day. James D.G. Dunn in his magisterial survey of the issue in Christology in the Making gives his considered view: the ‘thought of the Son of Man as a pre-existent heavenly figure [Dunn has Daniel chapter 7 in mind] does not seem to have emerged in Jewish or Christian circles before the last decades of the first century AD'(p 96). I refer readers to the discussion in Dunn’s book and The Authentic Gospel of Jesus by Geza Vermes, chapter 7, ‘Son of Man sayings’.
A popular new evangelistic course in the UK called Christianity Explored provides participants with an introductory book about Jesus. It runs courses all over the English speaking world. The course is unashamedly conservative evangelical in theology and adopts a fundamentalist approach to the Bible. It repeats the claim that the terms ‘son of God’ and ‘God the Son’ are simply interchangeable titles. It saddens me that sincere seekers after spiritual truth are being misled into an uncritical fundamentalism, or far worse, the blasphemous worship of the Messiah. It is salutary to recall that Jesus is reported to have said in Mark’s Gospel, Why do you call me good? No-one is good – except God alone.
The perils of failing to ask the following simple question are incalculable: what would those who first used this language about Jesus expect their hearers and readers to understand by the phrase? (Dunn, Christology, p.13). The answers, detailed in this paper, will show that Christians need to re-evaluate their understanding of who Jesus was. If Christians would undertake this difficult but necessary task, they will find that the results will bear a striking resemblance to the Jesus of the Qur’an, and that the two great faiths would be in substantial agreement.
ii) We can see a comparable religious impulse behind this startling divinization of Jesus by looking at some developments in India at about the same time. The Buddha had died at the end of the sixth century BCE. A deep love developed for him and a need to contemplate his enlightened humanity became so strong that in the first century BCE the first statues of the Buddha appeared in NW India. Buddhist spirituality became focused on the image of the Buddha, enshrined in statues, despite devotion to a being outside of the self being quite different to the interior discipline advocated by Gautama.
Devotion to Jesus arose in a similar way, in disregard of his clear teaching about wholehearted love of God and neighbour. As the Gospels unmistakably demonstrate, Jesus invited people to turn in heartfelt repentance and obedience to God, never to himself. Later Christians inverted Jesus’ message by announcing the worship of the proclaimer rather than the God he proclaimed.
As I mentioned in my introduction, recent studies have demonstrated the extraordinary convergence between the historical picture of Jesus produced by many biblical scholars and the Jesus of the Qur’an. This similarity has not gone unnoticed in two significant recent works by New Testament scholars which were published in the last twelve months. Both celebrate this remarkable correspondence. Jeffrey J. Butz is Professor of World Religions at Penn State University and an ordained Lutheran Minister. His book is entitled The Brother of Jesus & the Lost Teachings of Christianity. I highly recommend this book. The other work is by James D Tabor, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. His book The Jesus Dynasty (published by HarperElement 2006) is a study of Jesus and the New Testament. His comments are a fitting conclusion to my study:
Muslims do not worship Jesus, who is known as Isa in Arabic, nor do they consider him divine, but they do believe that he was a prophet or messenger of God and he is called the Messiah in the Qur’an. However, by affirming Jesus as Messiah they are attesting to his messianic message, not his mission as a heavenly Christ.
There are some rather striking connections between the research I have presented in The Jesus Dynasty and the traditional beliefs of Islam. The Muslim emphasis on Jesus as messianic prophet and teacher is quite parallel to what we find in the Q source, in the book of James, and in the Didache. To be the Messiah is to proclaim a message, but it is the same message as that proclaimed by Abraham, Moses and all the Prophets.
Islam insists that neither Jesus nor Muhammad brought a new religion. Both sought to call people back to what might be called “Abrahamic faith.” This is precisely what we find emphasised in the book of James. Like Islam, the book of James, and the teaching of Jesus in Q, emphasise doing the will of God as a demonstration of one’s faith. Also, the dietary laws of Islam, as quoted in the Qur’an, echo the teaching of James in Acts 15 almost word for word: “Abstain from swine flesh, blood, things offered to idols, and carrion” (Qur’an 2:172).
The Christianity we know from the Q source, from the letter of James, from the Didache, and some of our other surviving Jewish-Christian sources represent a version of the Jesus faith that can actually unite, rather than divide, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. If nothing else, the insights revealed through an understanding of the Jesus dynasty can open wide new and fruitful doors of dialogue and understanding among these three great traditions that have in the past considered their views of Jesus to be so sharply contradictory as to close off the discussion. (pp. 287-288)
And only God knows best!
Appendix: What the Qur’an says about Jesus
The Qur’an describes the state of Christianity and its doctrines as they were in the seventh century, a thousand years before the Protestant Reformation. Mostly, the Qur’an accepts and promulgates many teachings that are accepted in Christianity. Jesus holds a particularly high place in Islam. Muslims accept the virgin birth but do not see it as a sign of his divinity (after all Adam and Eve did not have a human father either). Jesus did many miraculous signs, raising the dead, curing blindness and healing lepers. But these are not attributed in the Qur’an to Jesus as God, but as powers given to Jesus from God. The Bible confirms this important distinction, ‘People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.’ Acts 2:22.
(Incidentally, Muslims do not accept Paul as an authentic interpreter of the teaching of Jesus).
The Holy Qur’an says:
People of the book, do not go to excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God except the truth: the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God, His word, directed to Mary, a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of a ‘Trinity’ – stop this, that is better for you – God is only one God, He is far above having a son, everything in the heavens and earth belongs to Him and He is the best one to trust. (Qur’an, 4:171)
Suggestions For Further Reading
A History of God by Karen Armstrong, published by Vintage 1999.
From Abraham to the present day: the 4000-year quest for God. An enlightening and intellectually challenging book, Armstrong offers many valuable insights. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, various editions.
Though James focuses mainly on Western spiritual experiences, this classic work reminds us of the staggering diversity of religious experience. A useful antidote to exclusivist conceptions of the Divine.
The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders, published by Penguin Books 1995. America’s most distinguished scholar in the field of Jesus-research, he provides a generally convincing picture of the real Jesus, set within the world of Palestinian Judaism.
The Changing Faces of Jesus by Geza Vermes, published by Penguin Books 2001. Vermes gives an equal voice to both the New Testament and non-biblical Jewish writings to uncover the historical figure of Jesus hidden beneath the oldest gospels, showing how and why a charismatic holy man was elevated into the divine figure of Christ. Essential reading.
The Authentic Gospel of Jesus by Geza Vermes, published by Penguin Books 2004. The first Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford, he almost single-handedly brought to the attention of New Testament scholarship the significance of Jesus as a Jew.
Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation by James D.G.Dunn, Second Edition, published by SCM Press 1989. This classic text is crucial reading for scholars and public alike. An advanced work, but it repays the effort.
Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity by James D.G.Dunn, Third Edition, published by SCM Press 2006. Dunn is an author who simply must be read by all serious students of early Christianity. Like his other work on Christology mentioned above, it assumes the reader is familiar with the basic critical issues of NT scholarship.
The Brother of Jesus & the Lost Teachings of Christianity by Jeffrey J. Butz
Escaping from Fundamentalism by James Barr, published by SCM Press 1990.
Barr is vital reading for those trapped in the rigid world of fundamentalism. I owe him a personal debt of gratitude. Sadly, Professor Barr passed away a few months ago.
What God said about Eating Pork, & Issues for Muslim/Christian Dialogue, by Shabir Ali, published by Al-Attique Publishers Inc, 2003. A short work (32 pages) written with clarity and intelligence, and unusually for a Muslim apologist, Ali has a firm grasp of the New Testament material.
Understanding The Qur’an, Themes and Style by Muhammad Abdel Haleem, published by I.B. Tauris 2005. The tenets of Islam cannot be understood without a proper understanding of the Qur’an. This new book by a professor of Islamic Studies at London University is accessible and erudite.
The Messenger, The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad by Tariq Ramadan, published by Allen Lane 2007. The latest biography of the Prophet Muhammad in English, this book is destined, in my opinion, to become the standard popular work about this astonishing and much-misunderstood man. Highly recommended.
Apologetics a branch of theology devoted to the rational defence of Christianity.
Buddha (Hindi) The enlightened one. The title applies to the numerous men and women who have attained nirvana, but it is often used of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism
Enlightenment, the an 18th century European movement marked by a belief in universal human progress and the importance of reason and the sciences.
Incarnation the embodiment of God in human form, especially of Jesus.
Islam self-surrender to God. The surrender of heart and will and mind to God is a basic principle of every authentic religion.
Ontology a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being
Second Temple Judaism
Synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke
Torah the law of Moses as outlined in the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy
What does Allah (God) say about the Prophet `Eesa (Eesho/Jesus)(P) and his mother Maryam (Miriam/Mary) in His last Revelation to mankind, the Qur’an?
The following are selected Qur’anic verses dealing with `Eesa and Mary, may God’s blessings be upon them:
“O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) A Messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah: glory be to Him: (far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs.” [4:171]
“And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We made her and her son a Sign for all peoples.” [21:91]
“We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of Messengers; We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you a Messenger with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride? Some ye called imposters, and others ye slay!” [2:87]
“Those Messengers We endowed with gifts, some above others: to one of them Allah spoke; others He raised to degrees (of honour); to Jesus, the son of Mary, We gave Clear (Signs), and strengthened him with the holy spirit. If Allah had so willed, succeeding generations would not have fought among each other, after Clear (Signs) had come to them but they (chose) to wrangle, some believing and others rejecting. If Allah had so willed, they would not have fought each other; but Allah fulfilleth His plan.” [2:253]
“Then will Allah say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold! thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and thou breathest into it, and it becometh a bird by My leave, and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the Clear Signs, and the unbelievers among them said: This is nothing but evident magic.'” [5:110]
“And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, And (appoint him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): ‘I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave: and I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe; (I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear Allah, and obey me.’ ” [3:48-50]
“And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.” [5:46]
“Curses were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected Faith, by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary, because they disobeyed and persisted in Excesses.” [5:78]
“For Allah, He is my Lord and your Lord: so worship ye Him: this is a Straight Way.” [43:64]
“And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: ‘O Children of Israel! I am the Messenger of Allah (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving Glad Tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.’ But when he came to them with Clear Signs they said, ‘This is evident sorcery!'” [61:6]
“O ye who believe! Be ye helpers of Allah: as said Jesus, the son of Mary, to the Disciples, “Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah?” Said the Disciples, “We are Allah’s helpers!” Then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved: but We gave power to those who believed against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed.” [61:14]
“That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not.” [4:157]
“Behold! Allah said: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to myself and clear thee (of the falsehood) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject Faith, to the Day of Resurrection: then shall ye all return unto Me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.” [3:55]
“Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them.” [4:158-159]
“In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary. Say: ‘Who then hath the least power against Allah, if His Will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all, everyone that is on the earth? For to Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He createth what He pleaseth. For Allah hath power over all things.’ ” [5:17]
“They do blaspheme who say: ‘Allah is Christ the son of Mary.’ But said Christ: ‘O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ Whoever joins other gods with Allah, Allah will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help.” [5:72]
“Say: ‘O People of the Book! exceed not in your religion the bounds (of what is proper), trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by, who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the even Way.'” [5:77]
“And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! didst thou say unto men, ‘Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden. “Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say, to wit, ‘Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord’; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when thou didst take me up thou wast the Watcher over them, and Thou art a witness to all things.” [5:116-117]
“Christ, the son of Mary, was no more than a Messenger; many were the Messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make His Signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!” [5:75]
“He was no more than a servant: We granted Our favour to him, and We made him an example to the Children of Israel.” [43:59]
“Then, in their wake, We followed them up with (others of) Our Messengers: We sent after them Jesus the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel; and We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him Compassion and Mercy, but the Monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them: (We commanded) only the seeking for the Good Pleasure of Allah; but that they did not foster as they should have done. Yet We bestowed, on those among them who believed, their (due) reward, but many of them are rebellious transgressors.” [57:27]
“That they rejected Faith; that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge;” [4:156]
“And Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of his Revelations, and was one of the devout (Servants).” [66:12]
“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).”” [2:136]
“Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth Thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus. The son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah;” [3:45]
“We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: We sent inspiration to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms.” [4:163]
“He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; “And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live: “(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; “So Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!” Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of Truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.” [19:30-34]
God Almighty revealed to Muhammad, in the Qur’an, the truth about Al-Maseeh (Messiah) `Eesa Ibnu Maryam (Jesus, the Son of Mary)(P). The Qur’an acknowledges the Messiahship of `Eesa(P) and God’s miracle of his virgin birth as a sign to the Israelites in order to bring back those Jews who deviated from the right path of God, the “lost sheep of Israel” as stated by Jesus(P).
As a Muslim, I honour and respect the Messiah Jesus(P) as an elect Prophet of God. The Islamic view of Jesus lies between two extremes. The Jews, who reject Jesus(P) as a Prophet of God, calls him an impostor. The Christians, on the other hand, considers him to be the God in flesh and worship him as such. Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus and refuse to consider that an alternative may be possible, i.e. that he is not God, but a messenger of God.
This Christian viewpoint is further confirmed by Josh McDowell and Bart Larson when they say that:
“The Scriptures teach that Jesus was fully God while also being fully human. Paul declared of Jesus, “For in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Because Jesus is both fully God and fully man, He stands in a unique relationship in the Trinity to the Father and the Holy Spirit.”1
The Qur’an, however, tells us that:
“They say: Allah has taken a Son. Glorified be He! He has no needs! His is all that is in the heavens and that is in the earth. You have no warrant for this, do you say regarding Allah that which you know not?” (Qur’an, 10:68)
Certainly, the Christian would simply not accept the Qur’anic declaration, since he or she believes in the divinity of Jesus and that the Bible is the Word of God, not the Qur’an. However, if there is sufficient evidence from the Bible itself, then the Trinitarian Christian is forced to accept the conclusion that the concept of the divinity of Jesus(P) is false and that was never divine.
The evidence shall be given as follows, insha’Allah.
The following is the Athanasian Creed formulated at the Council of Nicea declaring the Trinity:
We believe in one God the Father, Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God, light from light, Very God from Very God…2
This, however, raises the question: If Jesus(P) is a God but not a different God then he must be God himself. If that is the case how can he be Begotten? Isn’t God eternal?
This “possibility”, apart from the fact that it is totally irrational and disproved by the words of Jesus himself, is also in direct contradiction to the Bible.
Against The Divinity of Jesus
The Bible tells us that God is One:
“The first of all the commandments is ‘Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is One.'” (Mark 12:29)
Christians claim that there is only one God and who came down to earth in the form of a man, and since God is indivisible, they conclude that God and Jesus(P) are one being not two. This indivisibility of God necessitates that God and Jesus must be one being. However, this does not conform with many verses in the Bible where Jesus and God are clearly spoken of as two separate beings:
God Is The Creator, Not Jesus
1. The very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created….” introduces us to God as the Creator. Anyone who has read just the first verse of the Bible knows God as The Creator. So, there is no need to call Him as Father, even to explain Him metaphorically, and try in vain to compare the One Who is Incomparable.
“Have we not all one father? Hath not One God created us?” (Malachi 2:10)
The above verse of the Bible is possibly the explanation for the unwarranted use of the word “Father” in the Bible to denote The Almighty’s function, attribute or power as The Sole Creator.
In the whole universe, He is the only Creator and everything else is His creature. In the book of Genesis, the Bible gives details of how the heavens, the earth, the light, the animals, the man, etc. were made by God. Everything came into being by His command.
“For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalms 33:9)
The Bible says:
“By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” (Psalms 33:6)
God Is Distinct From Jesus
2. If God came down to earth as a man, one would expect that after the end of His life on earth, and upon His return to heaven, He would be One Being, not Two. This is not in agreement with the following verse:
“So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19)
This verse, which speaks about Jesus after he was raised up into heaven, clearly indicates that God and Jesus are not one being, for how can God be sitting on the right hand of Himself?
God Is Worshipped, Not Jesus
3. Jesus(P) attributed worship to the One True God.
“…and he often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16)
“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up on a mountain by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23)
These two verses which speak about Jesus are of great significance. How can Jesus be God if he was worshipping God as any other mortal? Who is he praying to?
The Christian may well suggest that Jesus was only praying in a symbolic manner so as to teach the people how to conduct prayer. This argument is nevertheless unacceptable because the words “wilderness” and “by himself” indicate that at those specific times, Jesus was all on his own while praying. He could not have been teaching anybody!
God Cannot Be Tempted
4. Jesus was tempted by the devil.
“….and Jesus for forty days in the wilderness was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1)
But in the Bible we also read that:
“God cannot be tempted by the devil”
If God cannot be tempted by the devil, and Jesus(P) was tempted by the devil, then Jesus cannot be God.
Jesus Refused To Be Called “Son of God”
5. Jesus(P) himself refused to be called ‘son of God’ on a number of occasions. In the following verse he rebukes the ones who called him ‘son of God’, preferring the title of ‘Messiah’:
“And devils came out of many, crying out and saying, ‘You are the son of God!’ And he, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that he was the Messiah” (Luke 4:41)
The refusal of Jesus to be called the son of God also occurred during the trial at the Sanhedrin. When he was asked if he claimed to be the son of God he replied:
“So you say. But I tell you this: from now you shall see the son of man seated at the right hand of God” (Matthew 26:64)
Jesus Says That He Is A Prophet Of God
6. On numerous occasions Jesus(P) speaks of himself as a prophet:
“A prophet is not without honour except in his home town and his own house” (Matthew 13:57, Mark 6:4 and Luke 4:24)
We also read:
“I must journey today, tomorrow and the day following for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33)
“This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:11)
Jesus Says That He Is A Messenger Of God
7. Jesus(P) also spoke of himself as the Messenger of God:
“He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.” (John 13:16)
The distinction in this verse is made very clear by Jesus between himself and the One who sent him. This is again made clear in the following verse:
“And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)
These verses clearly speak of two separate beings. To claim that Jesus and God are one reduces these verses to mere nonsense!
Jesus Was Called A Servant Of God
8. In various other verses Jesus(P) is referred to as the servant of God:
“Behold my servant, whom I have chosen” (Matthew 12:18)
“To you first, God having raised up His servant Jesus, sent him to bless you” (Acts 3:26)
These two verses, which are a fulfilment of Isaiah 42:1-4, speak of Jesus as the servant of God and not as God.
The Christian will usually argue that the terms ‘prophet’ or ‘servant’ are symbolic and are not to be taken literally. That is fine as long as this principle is applied to other equally important issues. Why does it have to be that when it comes to the title of ‘Son of God’ the Christian insists on taking it literally?
All these verses that speak of Jesus(P) as a Prophet of God, a Messenger of God and indeed the servant of God if anything affirms the fact that Jesus was a man who worshipped God like any other mortal.
Only God Is Perfect, Not Jesus
9. Jesus did not think of himself as being perfect, let alone divine. He knew in his heart that only God is perfect:
“Why do you call me good? No one is good but one, that is God.” (Mark 10:18)
These are hardly the words of someone who thought of himself as God come down to earth in the form of a man! In actual fact, in these words, Jesus makes a very clear distinction between God and himself.
Jesus Taught His People To Worship God Alone
10. In all of the Bible, there is not one verse where Jesus says that he is God come down to earth, that he is divine or that he should be worshipped. On the contrary, he taught the people to worship God in heaven:
“You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Luke 4:8)
If Jesus(P) is God who comes down to earth, why did he made such a statement? Did he not know it himself?
The divinity of Jesus(P) was never taught by Jesus and has no origin in the New Testament, but was adopted sometime after the ascension of Jesus(P).
In addition to the previous evidence from the New Testament that refutes the divinity of Jesus, it can also be demonstrated that the Jesus’ divinity is inconsistent with the prophecies contained in the Old Testament about the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus(P) was a Jew who lived and worshipped God according to the Law of Moses(P). Indeed, Jesus(P) himself is reported to have said:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17-18)
Thus we conclude that the evidence against the divinity of Jesus(P) is too enormous to ignore. Any sincere Christian reading the above should consider what did Jesus(P) really say and follow his words instead of submitting to doctrines that have no basis in the Bible. As the Qur’an tells us about the mission of Jesus:
“And (remember) when Jesus son of Mary said: O Children of Israel! Verily! I am the messenger of Allah unto you, confirming that which was before me in the Torah” (Qur’an, 61:6)
That the Christianity of today rests solely on the the doctrine of Jesus Christ, that he was God in human form and died on the cross as a suffering deity1 need no longer be explained.
However, there is hardly a single statement where Jesus(P) had explicitly stated that he is God, although Christians do bring out various passages in order to force this interpretation.
Did Jesus Claim To Be God?
Did Jesus(P) really make statements of his (alleged) deity regarding his status, the words, the will and the power he used? We urge you to consult your own Bible and verify that the following conclusions are not drawn out of context.
John 7:16 — “Jesus answered them and said, ‘My doctrine is not mine, but His who sent me.’ ”
John 14:24 — “He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but The Father’s who sent me.”
John 12:49 — “For I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent me gave me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.”
John 4:34 — “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work.’ ”
John 6:38 — “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.”
Luke 22:42 — “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done.”
Matthew 20:23 — “…But sitting at my right hand or my left is not mine to give. That is for those to whom it has been reserved by my Father.”
John 5:19 — “Verily, verily I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do…”
John 5:30 — “I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is righteous, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me.”
John 8:42 — “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but He sent me.’ ”
John 15:2 — “My Father takes away every branch in me that bears not fruit; he purges it; that it may bring forth more fruit.” Here, we see Jesus’ acknowledgement that he is an impefect sinner just like the rest of us; he too must be purged and purified.
John 8:31 — “You are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God??? This verse is one of the most explicit statements of Jesus denying divinity for it clearly defines Jesus’ position that he is subject to God and not God Himself. One only has to ask a simple question: Does God hears the truth from Himself?
Mark 13:32 — “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Matthew 24:36 — “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”
John 7:16 — So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me.”
We quickly notice that according to the Biblical Jesus, God is omniscient, but Jesus is not. God has a superior intellect to Jesus; in other words, God knows something that Jesus does not know. This is another clear proof that they are not equal beings.
The next few quotes from the Bible show us that Jesus(P) was a devout and learned Jew, a rabbi:
“Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and his reputation spread throughout the region. He was teaching in their synagogues, and all were loud in his praise. He came to Nazareth where he had been reared, and entering the synagogue on the sabbath as he was in the habit of doing, he stood up to do the reading.” (Luke 4:14-16)
The worship of God was always focal in his life, even as a child. The second chapter of Luke tells us a very touching story of Jesus(P) as a precociously wise child of twelve, sitting for days among the scholars. His family had accidentally left him in Jerusalem after their annual visit for the Passover. Nearly frantic, they searched for him:
“On the third day they came upon him in the temple sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. All who heard him were amazed at his intelligence and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished, and his mother said to him: “Son, why have you done this to us? You see that your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow.” He said to them: “Why did you search for me? Did you not know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:46-49)
As he grew, “Jesus…progressed steadily in wisdom and age and grace before God and men” (Luke 2:52). After he had matured, his opinion was sought, though perhaps not always respectfully, by traditional Jews. An example of this is John’s narration of the adulterous woman brought to Jesus for judgment.
Though they addressed him as “Teacher,” they tried to trap him into saying something which they could use against him. As he straightened up from where he had been writing on the ground, he issued his famous judgement: “Let him without sin cast the first stone.” Though they had come to trap him, the scribes and Pharisees could not argue and drifted away, leaving the woman without harming her. Even those who were hostile to his teachings respected him.
While thousands saw Jesus and heard his voice, Jesus himself said that this could not be done with God when he said:
John 1:18 — “No man hath seen God at any time.”
John 5:37 — “Ye have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His shape.”
John 4:24 — “God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
Jesus’ statements throughout the Bible suggest that any idea of exalting him to divinity was unthinkable. Perhaps the clearest indication we have that Jesus(P) and God are not equal, and therefore not one and the same, come again from the mouth of Jesus(P) himself who said these following words:
Matthew 7:21 — “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Jesus(P) would not even accept the praise of a man who called him good:
Mark 10:18 — “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’ “
If Jesus(P) would not even allow himself to be called good, he certainly would not claim divine qualities.
Subjugation To The Father
Mark 12:29 — Jesus(P) said “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” The words “our God” indicate that Jesus(P) had a higher God over him, a stronger God than him. Jesus(P) didn’t say “Your God”. He said “our God”, which includes Jesus as the creation of God.
Other similar quotes:
Luke 22:42 — “…not my will but Thine be done”
John 5:30 — “I seek not mine own will but the will of the Father which has sent me.”
John 7:16 — “Jesus said: ‘My doctrine is not my own; it comes from Him who sent me.'”
John 7:28-29 — “…I have not come of myself. I was sent by One who has the right to send, and Him you do not know. I know Him because it is from Him I come; He sent me.”
John 8:50 — “And I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks and judges.”
John 10:29 — “My Father is greater than all.”
John 14:28 — “My Father is greater than I.”
John 8:42 — “I proceeded forth and came from God, neither came I of myself but He sent me.”
Matthew 10:40; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48; John 13:20 — “Whoever welcomes me welcomes, not me, but Him who sent me.”
John 20:17 — “…Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
If the above still would not convince you that Jesus is subject to the Father, perhaps the next words of Jesus would definately prove that the One who sends is greater than the one who was sent:
“Jesus said; ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither one who is sent greater than the One who sent him.’ ” (John 13:16)
That Jesus(P) would admit that he did not come into the world on his own initiative but was directed to do so, that he would acknowledge another being as greater than himself, and that he would negate his own will in deference to affirming the will of another, give clear proof that Jesus is not the Supreme One and therefore Jesus is not God.
Conclusion: Is Jesus God?
So who was Jesus(P) then? A man who told the truth which he heard from God.
In other words, he was a messenger of God.
When a clear statement like this is issued from the lips of Jesus, why wrangle with the passages that are not so clear, and try to twist them to mean the opposite of what Jesus has been saying in other clear verses all along?
Anyone who wish to convince themselves that Jesus(P) is God should look for clear evidence in the Bible to show that Jesus(P) is God. But the clear evidence is to the contrary. The Bible teaches again and again that Jesus(P) is not God, but a servant of God (e.g. Matthew 12:18).
In the very next chapter of John 9:35, Jesus(P) declares that he is the Son of Man. And anyone who knows the Bible as the Israelites to whom Jesus spoke will know that a son of man cannot be God. The Bible declares that God is neither a man nor a son of man2:
“How can he be called clean that is born of a woman? Behold even the moon, and it shineth not; yea, the stars are not pure in his sight. How much less man, that is a worm? and the son of man, which is a worm?” (Job 25:4-6)
There has long been a great deal of debate among Christian theologians and scholars regarding the divinity of Jesus. This debate has intensified in recent years, and there seems to be an increasingly open concern over the truth of this doctrine.
Some Christians had even concluded that:
Jesus was (as he is presented in Acts 2:21) ‘a man approved by God’ for a special role within the divine purpose, and…the later conception of him as God incarnate, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity living a human life, is a mythological or poetic way of expressing his significance for us.3
It is clear that Jesus(P) followed the Mosaic law and did not claim divinity. According to the Bible, he was neither omniscient nor omnipotent.
Given the fact that nowhere in the Bible do we see a direct identification of Jesus as God, and that Jesus(P) strongly upheld all the commandments and emphasized the First Commandment, we can only conclude that the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity has no foundation in the scripture nor in the life and teachings of Jesus(P), and that this concept is an innovation in Christian doctrine.
Appendix: Theophilus Lindsey’s “A List of False Reading of the Scripture”
The following are the questions extracted from Theophilus Lindsey’s (1723-1808) A List of the False Readings of the Scriptures, and the Mistranslations of the English Bible4. Lindsey asked those who worshipped Jesus(P) what their reaction would be if Jesus had appeared to them and asked the following questions:
Why did you address your devotions to me? Did I ever direct you to do it, or propose myself as an object of religious worship?
Did I not uniformly and to the last set you an example myself of praying to the Father, to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God? (John 20:17)
When my disciples requested me to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1-2), did I teach them to pray to myself or to any other person but the Father?
Did I ever call myself God, or tell you that I was the maker of the world and to be worshipped?
Lindsey’s belief in the Divine Unity is evident from these words of his:
The Infinite Creator should be worshipped in all places for He is everywhere….no place is more sacred than another, but every place sacred for the prayer. Whenever there is a devout humble mind that looks to God, God is there. A mind free from sin is the true temple of God.
Emery H. Bancroft, Christian Theology, Zondervan Publishing House (1975), p. 95-156 [↩]
Centuries of confrontation with the Christian West followed by a period of intense missionary activity, which still continues in certain regions of the Islamic world in new forms, have created among some contemporary Muslims an aversion not only to Christianity but, in the case of some of the modernised classes, even to the Islamic conception of Christ and Mary. In response to the aggressive attack made upon Islam by so many Christian sources during the past, certain modernised Muslims have tried to forget or push into the background the clear teachings of Islam concerning Christianity. There have been even more extreme reactions among the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. As a result, they have created a Christology in certain quarters that is, to say the least, completely removed from the traditional Islamic teachings on the subject.
In this short exposition, it is not with such recent reactions but with the traditional Islamic teachings concerning Jesus that we shall concern ourselves. It might appear unconvincing to certain Christians that Islam places such an emphasis on the role of Jesus, but to understand the total perspective of Islam this emphasis is of significance. Moreover, in the secularised world of today it might be of spiritual comfort for Christians, besieged by a corrosive atmosphere which seeks to eat away the very sinews and bones of religion, to realise that millions of Muslims on earth bear witness to the Divine origin of Christianity and revere its founder, although naturally in a different perspective.
Islam does not accept the idea of incarnation or filial relationship. In its perspective, Jesus the son of Mary, ‘Isa ibn Maryam, was a major prophet and spiritual pole of the whole Abrahamic tradition, but not a God-man or the son of God. Nevertheless, his miraculous birth from a virgin mother, who is in fact referred to in the Qur’an as the woman chosen above all the other women of the world, is explicitly mentioned. So is the fact that he was “the Spirit of God” (ruhallah). His special function as the bringer of a spiritual way rather than a religious law is also basic to Islamic teachings. The Qur’an, however, does not accept that he was crucified but states that he was taken directly to heaven. This is the one irreducible “fact” separating Christianity and Islam, a fact, in reality, reality placed there providentially to prevent a mingling of the two religions. All the other doctrines, such as the question of the nature of Christ or the Trinity, can be understood metaphysically in such a way as to harmonise the two perspectives. The question of the death of Jesus is, however, the ‘fact’ that resists any interpretation which would be common to the Christian and Islamic views of the event. It could be said that this event was greater than any single description of it. In any case, the meaning of the crucifixion and the idea of redemption it signifies are perhaps the most difficult of all aspects of Christianity for an ordinary Muslim to grasp.
The Prophet of Islam held Christians in special esteem and emphasised the function of Christ within Islam by referring to Christ’s second coming at the end of the world. Islamic eschatology, therefore, although not identical with the Christian, is related to the same central figure of Jesus. Through the eschatological role assigned to Jesus in Islam as well as the many references to him and the Virgin Mary in the Qur’an, Jesus plays a role in the daily religious consciousness of Muslims equal to that of Abraham and following, of course, the role of the Prophet. Moreover, in Islamic esotericism, he plays a major function to which the many writings of Sufis such as Ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi and Hafiz attest.
If the Qur’anic description of Jesus is closely analysed, it will reveal Jesus as possessing three aspects, pertaining to the past, the present and the future, and corresponding respectively to his function of preserving the Torah, celebrating and perpetuating the Eucharist and announcing the coming of the Prophet of Islam. The Muslims interpret the perikletos (meaning “The Illustrious”) as parakletos (The Praised), which corresponds to one of the names of the Prophet of Islam, Ahmad (from the root h-m-d meaning “praise”). The Qur’an states:
‘And when Jesus son of Mary said: O Children of Israel! Lo! I am the messenger of Allah unto you, confirming that which was (revealed) before me in the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger who cometh after me, whose name is the Praised One (Ahmad)’ (LXI, 6)
For Muslims, it is inconceivable that such a major religious manifestation as Islam should have been passed in silence by Christ, and they see in his announcement of the reign of the Paraclete a reference to the coming of Islam. His function in the future is in fact, as stated in the above Qur’anic verse, to announce the coming of the Prophet of Islam and of course also to bring the present human cycle to its end.
In the traditional Islamic religious consciousness, Jesus joins with Moses and Abraham to represent the ternary aspect of the monotheistic tradition whose summation is to be found in the Prophet of Islam. In this perspective, Abraham represents faith, Moses law and Christ the spiritual way. The Prophet of Islam as the final Prophet, ‘the seal of prophecy’, is the synthesis of all these aspects. Also in the same way that the Prophet is the ‘seal of prophecy’ Christ is considered by most Sufis as the ‘seal of sanctity’ in the Abrahamic tradition. There is, in fact, a special type of ‘Christic wisdom’ (hikmah ‘isawiyyah) within Islam, consisting of elements of inwardness, anteriority and a kind of Divine elixir or nectar which can be seen in certain forms of Sufism. Moreover, this wisdom, as well as the spiritual personality of Jesus, are closely related to the Virgin, and the Qur’an refers to the two as a single reality. It states, for instance,
‘And We (Allah) made the Son of Mary and his mother to be a (miraculous) sign’ (XXVI, 50)
Despite differences which exist, and which in fact must exist if each religion is to preserve its own spiritual genius and authenticity, the Islamic conception of Jesus provides a firm basis for an understanding of Christianity by Muslims if they only refrain from reacting to the intimidations caused by modern attacks against Islam and return to a close study of their own traditional sources. But this conception can also aid Christians to grasp better what Islam really means to those who breathe within the universe it has brought into being. Perhaps the Islamic conception of Christ can serve as a basis for a better understanding of Islam on behalf of Christianity. It could enable Christians to realise that the sun of their spiritual world which they so love is also a shining star in the firmament of another world and plays an important role in the religious and spiritual economy of another human collectivity.
This article was taken from its online version and edited accordingly.