The central question of this thesis was provoked by Miroslav Volf’s (2011) book “Allah: A Christian response”. Volf confirms that it is possible for Christians and Muslims to worship the same God and even though there are central denials and differences, we should rather focus on what we have in common (2011:11). The problem is not just Volf’s conclusion but his means how he gets to it. Volf (2011:104-105) contends that the ultimate standard for determining similarity between Christianity and Islam is found in the two great commandments Jesus gives in loving God with “all your heart, and with your soul, and all your mind” and “your neighbour as yourself” (Matt. 7:12, 22:37). Volf (2011:119) goes as far as to ask what the central indicator is that one serves the true God in both Christianity and Islam. His answer is startling, ‘’deeds reveal which god we worship’’, “our God is known by our fruit.” The problem is not just with Volf’s conclusions but also with his central point for how we can get there. Jesus makes exclusive statements that reveal the truth about the nature of God and ultimately reveal that it is in Himself that the true measure of all truth lies (Joh. 14:6, Acts. 4:12). This thesis will look at what Christian’s theologians, Muslim scholars, and the Bible teach about Jesus Christ and His deity. We will then conclude with an investigation of how Christ reveals the God of the Bible and the Quran.
1.2 Objectives and Key Questions
The primary objective in this paper will be to explore the difference between Yahweh and Allah by considering the deity of Jesus Christ. I shall attempt to answer four key questions:
1. What have Christian theologians taught about the deity of Christ?
2. What has Islam academics taught about the deity of Jesus Christ?
3. What does Scripture teach about the deity of Jesus Christ?
4. Based on the divinity of Jesus Christ, what is the essential difference between Yahweh and Allah?
2. A review of Christian scholarship on the deity of Jesus Christ
In this chapter, I will show what prominent Christians believed about the Deity of Jesus Christ and interact with their understanding of this central doctrine. Michael Bird (2014:45) asks directly, “Did Jesus think He was God?” He noted that in the pre-Easter period of Christ there was already quite a varied perspective on the person of Jesus Christ from both His followers and critics. In fact, this question continued and Christianity up until today looks at language, imagery, categories, and the text to answer these questions.
2.2 Defining Major Scholarly Views
(a) Jesus shares Yahweh’s identity.
Scholar Michael Bird (2014:52) affirms that Jesus was a good monotheist that seemingly prayed to the Father (Mark. 14:36), He confirmed the Shema and the Oneness of God (Mark. 12:29-30), and he even called for steadfast devotion to God (Matt. 6:24). Bird (2014:52) then goes further and shows that Jesus was attuned to the idea that He was in fact both Prophet and Messiah but even more so Yahweh of Israel that was returning to Zion to fulfil the covenant and the promises He made to the nation about the new exodus. What essentially attracts me to Bird’s view is that he shows that even though Christ clearly identify as one essence with the Father [God] He assumes the very personal presence of God with Israel. This is a clear affirmation that Christ will be Immanuel which is ‘God with us’ (Isa. 7:14). Bowman and Komoszewski (2007:178) mention that a central aspect of Yahweh was that He was eternally present in time because He transcends time. Yahweh throughout the Judeo/Christian Scriptures is the prime mover of time and will be the denouement of it because He is the Lord over it. Jesus clearly identifies Himself as Yahweh by drawing on the same explicit statement affirming that He is the ‘first and the last’ (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12, Rev. 1:8; 21:6). Bowman and Komoszewski (2007:180) affirms therefore that the dynamic involvement of Christ in time and history can only lead us to believe that He was to the very nature of His being one and the same as Yahweh God. A central aspect of God is that God is Lord of time and He is the master of it. As these authors affirm, Jesus is therefore the Lord of time.
Bird is not the only scholar that holds to the view that Jesus was the revealed God of Israel. Kenneth Samples (2017:5) maintains that Jesus clearly was consciously connecting Himself with God and that He claimed unique divine prerogatives associated with God Himself. Jesus equated Himself so intimately with the Father that He in fact became a minimum extension of Yahweh. Jesus even makes it clear that one’s relationship with Yahweh is solely dependent on one’s relationship with Him. This means that interaction with the Father was necessary in interaction with the Son and vice versa. Jesus was therefore clearly the expressed image of Yahweh. Samples (2017:7) mention that there are numerous examples in the Scriptures where Jesus explicitly shows He was closely identified with Yahweh in the Old Testament. He mentions three examples: like the God of Israel, Christ demands that His disciples invoke His name in prayer (Matt. 18:19; Mark. 11:24; Joh. 14:13). Christ professed to have life in Himself as Yahweh had life in Himself (Exo. 3:14, Joh. 5:26) and Christ refer to titles like light, shepherd, rock, and king that are exclusive allusions to Yahweh in the Old Testament. Christopher Keiser (1982:33) affirms that Jesus in fact was also to be called upon for salvation and that the earliest confession that Jesus is ‘’Lord’’ (1 Thes. 3:13; Zech. 14:5) clearly showed that the earliest Jewish Christians had no problems to identify Christ with the One God of Israel.
(b) Jesus does Yahweh’s deeds:
Jesus was not only saying that He was Yahweh, but also did the works of Yahweh. Richard Bauckham (2008:183) mentions that even though there are diverse forms of Judaism, it was central that the God of Israel was worthy of Worship because He was the sole creator of all things and the sole ruler of all things. As for the earliest Jewish Christian community, Jesus was worthy to receive worship as Yahweh because he was recognized as the sole creator and ruler of all things. By using a Jewish Theological framework, they included Jesus in the unique identity of the One God of Israel (Bauckham 2008:184). I think Bauckham is right to say that Jesus was not simply warranted as God’s viceroy, rulership is not given to a creature, but we see clearly in the first Christian community Jesus was seen as both ruler and creator. This clearly leads us to believe they associated Jesus with the One God of Israel. Darrell Bock and Benjamin Simpson (2016:92) mention another prerogative that associates Jesus with the One God of Israel, which is that He forgives sins (Mark. 2:1-12). What we know from the Old Testament is that the very nature of sin is ultimate rebellion against God (Ps. 51:4) and the very release from any sin only comes because of God’s forgiveness. Bock and Simpson (2016:93) notes that there is no indication that Jesus was just affirming that God forgave the paralytic and He was just a passive witness.
Jesus directly pronounced forgiveness for the man implying His own authority offending the Jewish leadership that confirmed that Jesus was attributing to Himself a prerogative only fit for Yahweh Himself. Bowman and Komoszewski (2007:223) also recognize the fact that in the New Testament Jesus is obviously doing what God does. Jesus is the righteous judge that will raise both the righteous and wicked from the dead (Joh. 5:28-29). Jesus claims to decide who ultimately dies in eternal condemnation and who lives in eternal life. In the Old Testament, we know Yahweh to be the judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25).Bowman and Komoszewski (2007:229) notes that Jesus does not say that the Father has merely delegated all judgement to the Son but explicitly mentions that His judgement will be final. I think it is important to look at the author’s point, a finite human being with authority to judge humanity can only function in a limited capacity without the full details of every single person’s life story. Only God can be the judge because only God has the infinite ability to determine the full intention of every man and woman’s hearts. If Jesus were just an exalted man, he would not be worthy to be an eternal and fair judge. Scripture reveals that He is an eternal and fair judge because He knows the intention of all man and will therefore do so with all clarity and justice. Jesus was not just revealing that He was Yahweh through His deeds, but also shows that He takes Yahweh’s place.
(c) Jesus takes Yahweh’s place:
Jesus did not only do what Yahweh did, but even takes up residence in Yahweh’s seat of authority where worship is directed to Him. John Stott (2001:182) argues that the very throne of God, which signifies His sovereignty, majesty, and kingly rule, places Christ at the very center as the exerting authority, receiving glory and mandating power from the very throne (Rev. 4:1-11). Jesus is the expressed will of the Father and the revealed face of the Father. Stott (2001:228) mentions that Jesus is the outward shining of Yahweh’s inward being and on the throne, we recognize God in the person and works of His incarnate Son. I would like to add to these statements of Stott that Christ does not just take up residence on the throne of God but He actually has ownership alongside God (Rev. 22:1-3). Larry Hurtado (2010:51) mentions that Jesus devotion was an early feature of the first Christian community. In fact, the drama of the Gospels concerns itself solely with the response people make to Jesus. Jesus does not just become a co-occupant of God’s throne but He is also the central figure that are the recipient of devotional practices directed towards Him. Hurtado (2010:52) mentions that by the date of Paul’s Epistles we see Jesus being the central exponent of their songs, invoked in baptism, corporately confessed, and a central meal shared in His name. These are just some practices that show that the earliest Christian community, without a doubt, equated Jesus with the One God of Israel and made everything relating to their invocations and venerations about Jesus Christ.
James Dunn (2010: 12-22) reveals an early Christian community who’s language of Worship includes various words ascribing Worship to Christ. Dunn (2010:28) indicates that these doxologies mentioned in New Testament benedictions never expressively applied to the person of Jesus Christ. He makes a very vague statement and says these attributions were used occasionally with some reserve when ascribing exclusive worship to Jesus. He affirms for instance that the Carmen Christi (Phil.2:6-11) involves Christ as the subject of veneration but not as object of adoration. He shows that these hymns are praising God for Christ and mentions that praise being offered to God naturally entails praise to the plenipotentiary himself (Dunn 2010:41). Jesus is therefore a semi-divine figure and nothing else functioning in His divinely ordained ministry as God’s agent (Dunn 2010:133). I personally do not find Dunn’s argument convincing because his objections are not explicitly stated in scripture. His supposed ‘agency’’ cannot explain the full range of Christ’s person, function within the text, and he cannot adequately explain for instance the reality of Christ being the recipient of worship (Joh.20:28, Rev.4-5). In the Carmen Christi Paul also shows that the Worship of Yahweh relates directly to the Worship of Christ (Isa.45:23, Phil.2:10). Even though Dunn is an esteemed scholar of note, I can wholeheartedly disagree with his evaluation.
In conclusion, we can say Christian theology accounts for the fact that Jesus was the revealed identity of Yahweh. Jesus also conclusively revealed the works of the Father and even shared from His own volition. Lastly, we see Jesus taking the place of ultimate eminence revealing the throne of the Father heralding a new dispensation and being our king. Christian theology can account for the divinity of Jesus Christ and establish that it is appropriate to give Him everything that is due to God Himself.
3. A review of Islamic scholarship on the deity of Jesus Christ.
As a priority, Islamic Scholarship has always maintained a very strict perspective on the unity of God. It denies any association with the One God and any attribution of a partner with God is thought an unpardonable sin called shirk (Qadhi 2003:53). The central accusation against Christians is that they are committing excess in claiming that Jesus was more than a messenger of Allah and the Son of Allah (Surah Al Nisa 4.171). Allah asks Jesus in the Quran if he ever dared to call anyone to Worship him and his mother (Al-Ma’idah 5.116). Jesus retorts with an emphatic denial. There are serious repercussions for those who hold Jesus to be divine and the Son of God. The Quran mentions that a curse resides on Christians that dare to call Jesus the Son of Allah (Surah Al-Tawbah 9.30). In this chapter, I will look at popular Muslim claims about the person of Jesus Christ.
3.2 Defining Major Scholarly views
(a) Jesus becoming a demi-god:
Popular Muslim author and Scholar Reza Aslan (2014:170) give a very charitable interpretation to the idea of Jesus becoming a god in the early first and second century. When Christ walked the plains of Palestine His message was essentially the kingdom of God and the unity of God but not Himself. Aslan mentions that Christians are deluded and the Quran affirms: “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!” (Surah Al-Ma’idah 5.575). According to Aslan (2014:171) when Christ’s message reached, an educated Greek speaking Diaspora Jews they gradually transformed him and his message from a revolutionary zealot to a Romanized demi-god. Aslan thinks that the idea of Christ’s deity was not original to the earliest Christian context but grew in time from Hellenised myths. Even though Aslan cannot really account for this apparent progression in Christian thought, it seems like he rather draws on contemporary scholars to give credence to his own view. The progression Aslan assumes did not occur without conflict and difficulty and two opposing groups emerged. One group championed by Christ’s brother James and the other promoted by Paul who was a former Pharisee. Aslan (2014:195) mentions that the reason Paul’s form of Christianity seems to become more victorious is because Hellenistic ideas were popular and further Paul’s zealous tendencies seemed more appealing because Jesus Himself was a Zealot. Aslan’s perspective leaves us with more historical questions than answers and one thing is considerably interesting when we look at his perspective. Aslan (2014:213-214) affirms that Jesus was not made God at the council of Nicaea as the majority of Muslim scholars today contend, he mentions that that was the reality long before as a result of Paul’s letters and influence. For me this creates more problems for Aslan, if Paul’s writings were the earliest documents in existence is surely affirms the earliest Christian community held Christ to be the Son of God. Our next point will look at Jesus being the Son of God from a Muslim perspective.
(b) Jesus as begotten Son of God:
Ahmed Deedat is probably the most influential Muslim Scholar in the world today. Deedat (2010:28) says that the title ‘only begotten Son of God’ was a metaphorical description commonly used under the Jews. Deedat (2010:29) insists that Christians have made the title more emphatic because they insist that Jesus was not created like Adam but was the ‘unique Son of God’. Deedat claims that the Quran denies explicitly that Jesus was the generated Son of God. Surah Maryam (19.34-35) says “Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, “be” and it is.” Deedat (2010:29-30) makes two points that needs consideration. First, he insists that the word ‘begotten’ means Jesus was ‘sired’ by God, which is an animal act that we cannot attribute to God. Second, we are all children of God metaphorically, but Jesus was a special Son of God, but never God the Son that shared in God’s dominion (Surah Al-Furqan 25.2, Sahih Muslim Volume 001, Hadith number 0352). Jesus in Islam is clearly a very special prophet of God, but not greater than Muhammad (Sahih Bukhari Volume 006. Hadith number 003). Deedat (2010:30) insists that Muslims connect the title Son of God with an anthropomorphic idea of procreation (Surah Al-Ikhlas 112.3) and shows that the Quran never insists that Jesus share in Allah’s ontology as God. Jesus is not God and to deem Him so is simple blasphemy (Surah 5.17, 73, 116-117). Early commentator on the Quran Ibn Kathir (2000:195) mentions that Allah mentions those who through misguided certainty claimed the Son as offspring of Him, but he holds that Allah is far holier than what the unjust polytheist people associated with Him. Kathir (2000:196) see the incarnation of the Son in a very anthropomorphic sense and objects to this idea because Allah has no partner that has a comparable being to Him or equal rivalling His greatness and grace.
(c) Jesus as extraordinary man:
Tahrif Khalidi (2001:15) mentions that Jesus was a Prophet send by Allah who was endowed with various titles and one single prerogative to teach the unity of Allah and to call back the people to Worship just the One God. The Quran essentially teaches that Jesus was an Apostle of Allah and a Prophet of Allah (Surah Al-Nisa 4.171) but not greater than Muhammad. Khalidi (2001:97) mentions Jesus is also called the ‘’word’’ of Allah in this ayat but it is not interpreted as Christians hold in John’s Gospel (John 1:1, Sahih Muslim Volume 001, Hadith number 0380). Jesus is a Spirit from Allah, which means he was a created entity by Allah (Surah Al-Nisa 4.171). The Quran also mentions that Jesus was the Messiah (Surah Al-Imran 3.45) but unfortunately gives no indication as to the significance of this title or Old Testament expectation. Jesus was a miracle worker (Surah Al-Imran 3.49) but again His miracles in the Quran gives no legitimacy to His person and neither does it connect Him to the revealed actions only reserved with God. Khalidi (2001:216) shows Muslims relate to Jesus as a created Prophet, endowed by power from Allah, with a central message of submission (Islam). His Messianic title and his miracles indicate nothing about his individual fulfilled purpose, or his revealed personhood as God. Jesus was a sign to all humanity (Surah Maryam 19.21) but has no authority above the Apostle of God (Muhammad) or Allah. Lastly, Khalidi (2001:13; 40) affirms that the Quranic understanding of the trinity is a form of tritheism and majority of Christians do not hold to the Quranic conception of the trinity (cf. Son, Mary, Allah). Khalidi still denies the Christian triune God because he believes there is enough reason to denounce any form of plurality of God, as it is evident in the Quran (Surah Al-An’am 6.101; Az-Zuman 39.4; Al-Ikhlas 121.1-4; An-Nisa 4.171).
Muslim scholarship denounces the idea that God can be more than one and have a consort. Jesus was a prophet of god but not God or even God’s son. The Jesus of the Quran calls for wilful submission but do not require any form of veneration. Jesus does not reveal the character or attributes of Allah in any way or form. He calls for men to worship Allah alone.
4. A biblical examination of the deity of Jesus Christ.
In the previous chapter, we have examined various Christian and Muslim scholars’ perspective on the deity of Christ. In this chapter, I will give a brief overview on what the bible says about the indirect claims of Christ’s divinity and I will exegete two passages of Scripture that emphasize the point of this thesis, which is to show that Jesus is God.
4.2 An Exegesis of Mark 14:62-64
I have selected the Gospel of Mark 14:62-64, since it is the climax of the book where we finally have Christ accounting for who He is. It is also one of the first texts in the New Testament that emphatically situates the person of Jesus Christ in a place of clear pre-eminence and Old Testament fulfillment. It reads as follows:
And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Tearing his clothes, the high priest *said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
(a) And Jesus said, “I am”
Mark provides the central confession of the Christian faith in Christ with this one verse. Here Jesus reveals His identity for the first time as the Son of Man and the Son of God (Hagner 2016:182). Mark writes with a clear intent and that intent is to reveal the splendour of Christ. The statement Christ utters is emphatic, “I am” (Ἐγώ εἰμι – Ego Eimi). Jesus is obviously drawing from a Jewish understanding of the Divine name (Exo. 3:14) and translators have even indicated that Jesus is not just affirming his identity but he is stating it. Jesus is saying the ‘I am’ is here, or ‘I am the Lord’ (Edwards 2002:447). It is important to notice that the high Priests question plays an important role in the formulation of verse 62. It provides the Christological context to the ‘ego eimi’ (Ἐγώ εἰμι) saying of Jesus because it completes the High Priests own Christology. Gundry (1993:12) affirms that when the High Priest insists and asks in verse 60 “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (sou ei ho Christos, ho huios tou eulogetou) we need to realize that Christ affirms His ‘Christhood and divine Sonship’ in connection with the preceding verse. Mark’s intention is therefore to affirm that Jesus is answering the High Priest in such a way that His confession extends beyond his question. France (2002:609) notice that the range of the lexical units in verse 62, like the particle “de”, the name ‘Iesous’ and the verb ‘eipen’ relating to ‘ego eimi’ and ‘huios tou anthropou’ clearly indicates that the verse extends beyond its immediate context. Mark recognizes that Jesus indicates the full expression of His own self-identity being the Son of God and the coming Son of Man.
(b) “You shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power”
France (2002:612) shows that Mark is clearly drawing from two passages in the Old Testament (Ps. 110:1; Dan. 7:13) combining them to give a clear picture of the fulfillment and interpretation of a metaphor. Both passages give a clear indication of sovereign authority in distinct ways and Mark records that Jesus attributes it to Himself. In the use of the Psalm, ‘sitting at the right hand of God’ clearly indicates a place of eminence and authority. France mentions that Daniel 7:13-14 indicates an enthronement oracle and it indicates that Jesus now declares to be the recipient of unending dominion and they will be witnesses of this. Edwards (2002:447) mentions that Jesus refers to Himself as a divine and exalted figure “sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One” (Gk. “right hand of [God’s] power”). Jesus therefore both affirm His divine Sonship before the high priest and He also portrays Himself as the fulfiller of the eschatological mission of the Son of Man that sets up His permanent residence in God’s place. Keener (1993:178) observes that Jesus is not just stating that He is the coming Messiah but he also the cosmic ruler of Daniel 7:13-14 and the embodiment of Israel’s call coming in glory with an everlasting Kingdom that will have no end. It is interesting to note that the Son of Man has the authority to judge the sins of the people and he personally inaugurates the Kingdom of God.
(c) “Coming with the clouds of heaven.”
The third statement Jesus makes in this verse is that He will ‘come with the clouds of heaven’ (ἐρχόμενον μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ). This passage draws from Daniel 7:13 that states; “And behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like the Son of Man.” Miller (1994:207) mentions that in the ancient world, clouds provided transportation only for deities and Jesus is clearly associating this metaphor with Himself (cf. Rev. 14:14-15). Clouds are depicted in the Old Testament as being Yahweh’s chariots (Ps. 104:3) and God even appears within a thunderstorm (Judges. 5:4). David pleads Yahweh for help, and God arrives upon the cherubim from His heavenly temple (Ps. 18:11) and Nahum (1:3) beholds clouds at the feet of Yahweh in his theophanic vision. Clouds were associated with Yahweh’s judgement (Isa. 19:1) and the prophet Ezekiel records Yahweh coming from a cloud (1:4, 28) where the temple was filled and judgement would be poured out later (10:3-4). What startled the High Priest was that Jesus dared to parallel Himself with Yahweh that would judge the nations.
This was a prerogative that was clearly only central to Yahweh in the Jewish understanding. Yahweh would judge the nations several times in the Old Testament from a cloud-mass (Ezek. 30:2, 34:12; Joel. 2:2; Zeph. 1:15) where His anger would become a dark smoke cloud (Isa. 30:27). France (2002:612) holds that Jesus here declares that in the metaphors ‘sitting’ and ‘coming’ Jesus is referring to one initiative and that is ‘sovereign authority’. The representation of clouds in the Old Testament was clearly connected with eschatological judgement and salvation (Isa. 4:5; Nah. 1:3). What Jesus is saying is in fact justifying the High Priest reply, because He identifies Himself with Yahweh that will stand in complete judgement of the High Priest Himself as well as the whole nation of Israel. Further, makes Himself the spiritual head of the nation of Israel because He was assuming a place of authority over the High Priest who was under the impression that He was judging Him.
(d) “You have heard the blasphemy”
Keener (1993:178) comments that the high Priest tearing his robe (v/63) was a sign of mourning or repentance and was even commonly expected from anyone that heard the sacred name blasphemed. The High Priest was clearly advocating for a conviction because Jesus did not clearly equate Himself with the Hebrew name of God or explicitly said He was God. Keener correctly noted that Jesus was not technically guilty of blasphemy and that a Jewish court would have probably declared Christ insane. Under Jewish jurisprudence the High Priest in actual fact was not permitted to judge the case alone and the reason for the swift decision was clear, Jesus posed a threat to the temple establishment (Mark. 11:15-18) and as Messianic claimant threatened the Roman power structure that the Jewish aristocracy represented (Keener 1993:179). Edwards (2002:449) makes an interesting observation in that the High Priest and the Jewish Sanhedrin accused Jesus of blasphemy but the irony escaped them because they were blaspheming because Jesus was in fact God’s Son.
Bock (2000:209) mentions that the Jewish leaders and the High Priest no doubt were incredibly offended and believed that Jesus called Himself the Son of God and therefore deserved death. Bock (200:30-112) also shows that even insulting the religious leaders, arrogant speech, action against God and His people or Temple, could have been judged as blasphemy. It is obviously clear that the Jewish establishment of the day wanted Jesus out of the way. The best way to do this was to put Jesus squarely against the Jewish religious order, and to seal His fate was to claim that ultimately it would end in a revolt that would try to overthrow the Roman establishment. Jesus was clearly a threat and in this trial narrative, we find that He sealed His own fate by saying what He said. In John’s Gospel, we find a more emphatic statement that Jesus was God and that is where we will turn our attention towards for now.
4.3 An Exegesis of John 1:1, 18.
(a) “And the Word was God”
Larry Hurtado (2003:2-3) makes three points relating to the earliest Christian communities devotion relating to Christ: (1) Devotion of Jesus emerges phenomenally early; (2) devotion to Jesus was intense and; (3) reverencing Jesus as being divine was within a firm stance of monotheism. John writes:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Prologue of John includes eight references to the word God [Theos] (1.1, 2, 6, 12, 13, and 18). Six of these verses relate to God the Father (1:1, 2, 6, 12, 13, and 18) and two passages refer to the Word or Jesus Christ (1:1, 18). Köstenberger and Swain (2008:48) mentions that the word ‘theos’ is a familiar word that John’s readers will identify with the One God revealed in the Old Testament. Genesis 1:1 speaks of the Creator and John calls upon the very same story to show that the Word subsisted as an eternal being with (ēn, ‘was’ in verse 1-2) God prior to creation. Carson (1991:111) writes that the Word, which was God in the very beginning, came into the sphere of time, history, and tangibility. This means that the Word was (ēn) pre-existing or eternally existing (1:1, 17:5, 24).
Bruce (2008:1198) comment that the Word (Gk. Ho logos) was with God which push our understanding of the relationship between Father and Son far back beyond to what the mind can conceive. The Prophet Micah mentions that the conquering Messiah will have His origin ‘from antiquity’ or ‘from eternity’. The Prophets Isaiah (9:6) states that ‘a Son will be given’ who will be ‘eternal father’. Oswalt (1986:247) says this phrase must not be taken lightly as this person mentioned in an ancient Near Eastern context contains a clear divine element. In a later verse, John mentions that the Jesus was ‘at the Father’s side’ which means that He was with God eternally. Jesus also mention that He pre-existed Abraham (Joh. 5:58) and Paul mentions the Son’s pre-eminence over all of creation (Col. 1:15). In His High Priestly prayers Jesus asks that the glory He shares with the Father would be given back to Him, but what is interesting here is that Christ mentions that glory was His ‘even before the world began’ (Joh. 17:5). In verse 24 of the same Chapter Jesus declares the love between Father and Son ‘before the foundation of the World’. Paul also mentions that Jesus pre-existed and took a form of a servant by becoming a man (Phil. 2:6-7). John also records that Jesus knew He was going back to God because He came ‘forth from God’ (13:3). The author of Hebrews also mentions that the Son existed before creation (Heb. 1:2) and that His rule is eternal because He created everything (v/8). John also records Jesus declaring that He is the ‘Alpha and Omega’ the one ‘who was, and is, and is to come, the Almighty’ (Rev. 1:8). All these indicate that Jesus clearly existed with the Father in eternity past. Bruce (2008:1198) writes that the Word was no less God than the transcendent God beyond all time and space.
John shows that 1:1b states that the Word was referred to as ‘Theos’. Two different persons are therefore referred to as God, God the Father and God the Son. John says the Word was ‘with God’ (Gk. kai ho logos ēn pros ton theon) which denotes a clear distinction in persons but also an eternal relationship (Bruce 2008:1198). John shows that both these figures have one thing in common; they are both God (Köstenberger and Swain 2008:49). Wallace (1996:269) says that John makes the point very clear in that Jesus is ultimately co-equal with the Father and shared the essence of the Father though they differed in person. All that is said about God can be said about the Word. Keener (1993:264) states that John is drawing on the title ‘the Word’ because he is showing that Christ is the embodiment of all of God’s revelation in the Scriptures and thus anyone who accepts Jesus honor the law completely (1:17). Jesus is clearly identified as God and existed with the Father in eternity past; He has a Kingdom that has no end and will at the fruition of time come back and judge both the living and the dead. In verse 18 of the same chapter, Jesus becomes the very essence of the Fathers nature and the truest expression of His will. John notice that Jesus primarily manifests that which God is all about in deeds and in character. I will now turn my attention to that verse.
(b) “The Only Begotten God, He has explained Him”
John starts this passage of with the words “no one has seen God at any time.” Keener (1993:265) mentions that in the Old Testament Moses was only a witness to a partial reality of God’s presence (Exod. 33:20) but we notice in the Old Testament that God was seen (Gen. 16:13; 18:1-33; 22:11-14; 32:24-43; Exod. 3:2-4; 17; Judg. 6:11-24; 13:2-23; Dan. 3:23-29). Did John get it wrong to say that ‘no one has seen God?’ The answer is no. As I have showed in the previously mentioned verses, (1:1) Jesus was pre-existing with the Father in all eternity. When the people of the Old Testament witness these manifestations of God we can be assured that it was not the Father they were seeing, because the Father dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16). Jesus even affirms that no one has seen the Father (Joh. 6:46). The only conclusion is therefore that they saw the Son in His pre-incarnate form (Bruce 2008:1200). John goes further in the passage and says:
“the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”
Tenney (1976:72) mentions that this verse contains a startling variant in that some of the most ancient manuscripts use the word ‘God’ rather instead of ‘Son’. Wallace (1996:360) mentions that even though the words ‘unbegotten God’ (μονογενὴς θεός) are not used elsewhere in the Johannine corpus this phrase is preferred in the as the original reading above the words ‘the only begotten Son’ (ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός). Keener (1993:265) notes that ancient writers often used ‘inclusio’ to tell a narrative by beginning and ending it in the same manner and sometimes even with the same phrases. Jesus is seen as both the expressed image of the Father but also one with the Father in ontology. Again the deity of Christ is affirmed with the phrase ‘who is’ (ho ōn) that clearly denotes a timeless ongoing existence ‘with’ the Father (cf. Rom. 9:5). Carson (1991:134) maintains that John is here breaking the barrier of the impossible for human beings to see God because Jesus has now made Him known. This prepares the way for later passages in the gospel of John to affirm, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Joh. 6:46; 14:9). Jesus being in the ‘bosom of the Father’ relates perfectly with John’s idea that he rested on Christ’s bosom at his last supper (13:23) which conveys an aura of intimacy, mutual love, and knowledge (Carson 1991:135). Jesus is therefore the one that explains the Father (Gr. Exēgēsato – from which we derive the word ‘exegesis’) elsewhere in the New Testament this verb means to tell a narrative (Luk. 24:34; Acts. 10:8; 15:12, 14; 21:19). Tenney (1976:72) adds that the One Christ, who is qualified to do so through Kingship and understanding, interprets the nature of the invisible and mysterious God. A finite mind cannot explain the infinite God, and John therefore claims that the eternal Son explained the Father fully because He was in fact the omniscient God Himself.
The Biblical account of Jesus Christ clearly gives us the evidence that the idea of God in the Bible is impossible without the revelation of the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus announced explicitly that he was the coming of the expected Messianic king who ultimately takes the throne of God and judges the living and the dead. Further, He was revealed as the word of God bringing restoration to the presence of God amongst His people. Jesus is the very definition of what we mean as Christians when we talk about God. We are assured to know God because of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
5. How the person of Jesus Christ differentiates between Yahweh and Allah.
The person of Jesus Christ has a very central role in both Christianity and in Islam. Houlden (2005:404) writes that in Islam Jesus is a servant (‘abd) of God, a prophet (nabi), a sign (aya), an example (mathal), a witness (shahid), and a mercy (rahma) to all humanity. Jesus is eminent (wajih) and even brought near to God (min al-muqarrabin) and seen as one of the upright (min al-salihin) and he is blessed (mubarak). The title “Al Masih” (Messiah) is used of Him in an honorific sense. Christianity can affirm all of the titles that is mentioned in the Quran and even more so the titles of Christ evident in the Christian scriptures. Samples (2017:41) mention as few of these titles, Jesus is Creator (Joh. 1:3); Sustainer (1 Cor. 8:6); Universal leader (Rev. 1:5); forgiver of Sins (Mark. 2:5-7); object of prayer (Joh. 14:14; object of worship (Heb. 1:6); recipient of Doxologies (Rom. 9:5); object of saving faith (Joh. 14:1; and the image of God (Col. 1:15). Jesus surely is central to both faiths and in this section, we will see that the central person of Jesus Christ affects the way we understand God in both Christianity and Islam.
5.2 Yahweh as revealed by Jesus Christ
The Author of Hebrews (1:3) mentions that Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Thomas Schreiner (2015:56-57) says that the Son reflects God’s glory and represents the nature and character of the one true God. Christ is the definition of God and Christianity finds the true picture of their God in the expressed person of Jesus Christ. Baillie (1968:66) makes it emphatic when he writes that Christianity gives us a ‘Christlike God’. Jesus exhausts the very definition of God through the revelation of His being. Jesus answers Philip after he asked if Jesus could show them the Father, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Joh. 14:9). The first distinction between the revelation of God in the Quran and the Bible is that God is intimately known through Jesus Christ. John (17:3) says; “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” There is no knowledge of God where there is no true revelation of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:17, Col. 2:2). The essential character of the God revealed in the bible is love and love seeks to be known (Joh.3:16, 1 Joh. 4:7-9, 16). MacArthur (1996:27) writes that the Christian God is not an unknown, impersonal force but He is a personal being with the full attributes of personality, volition, feeling, and intellect. God in Christianity is known through Jesus Christ and we are assured that He is qualitatively love which is essential to our understanding of His being (1 Joh. 4:7).
Bavinck (2003:41) remarks that if God does not reveal Himself to His creatures, essentially knowledge of Him is utterly unattainable. It is important to know that even though God is unique and incomprehensible there are communicable attributes like love, holiness, mercy, justice, goodness and grace that is essentially qualitative of Him. He acts therefore consistent with His comprehensive attributes and the Christian can know their God because He is constant in His revealed nature (Bavinck 2003:203). Faith is therefore truly possible for the Christian conception of God because we can surely account for God’s consistent self-revelation as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ (Joh. 1:1-3, 14, and 18). Sire (1977:49) affirms that the Christian conception of God can be both knowable and unknowable without any form of contradiction because God is wholly transcendent but in Christ wholly immanent. He has nothing comparable to Him in this world, but He is also Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). The God of Scripture is revealed as transcendent but also personal, he is known by His Son. Islam cannot provide a cogent perspective of God because they do not have a true conception of the person of Jesus Christ. In the next section, we will see that Allah is essentially not identified with his attributes but seemingly above them. He is beyond reason, realm, and revelation.
5.3 Allah as revealed by Jesus Christ
The very identity of Christianity hinges on our understanding that “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Cor.5:19). Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, we can clearly assume the character and identity of God. Jesus is identified within the Quran to be virgin born (Surah Al-Imran 3.45-47); sinless (Surah Ali’ Imran 3.36); the Messiah (Surah Maryam 4.157; 171) and the Word from Allah (Surah Al’ Imran 3.39, 45; Surah al-Nisa 4.171). Jesus emphatically denies to be the Son of God because Allah is a Father to no one (Surah al-Ikhlas 112:1-4; Surah Maryam 19:34-35). The Quran mentions the titles of Christ but fails to establish any parallel to the reason for these titles. The author of the Quran also seems to misunderstand the implication of these titles and have confused the application for these ideas. There is no succinct reason gives as in the Christian Scriptures as for the details of these ideas. We can fairly assume from our reading of the Quran that Jesus (Isa) is not the Jesus of the Christian Scriptures.
The author of the Quran further complicates matters by saying the Jesus is not God in the flesh (Surah Al-Nisa 4.172, Al-Ma’idah 5.73, and Surah Al- Tawbah 9.30) and God is not a triune God (Surah Al-Ma’idah 5.73). The problem is as Letham (2004:446) recognize; only a Triune God can ultimately be love because love is an essential quality of the persons in union and communion. A solitary ‘One’ cannot love as an expressed part inherently of itself neither can it be qualitatively a person. Trinitarian theology hinges on the idea that God is completely love in Himself as a result of the three ‘persons’ sharing the one ‘being’ completely in a undivided loving communion. The Jesus of the Quran adds no revelation to Allah accept for the vocational calling to submit only to him (Surah Al-Zukhruf 43.63). Traditional Islam does not provide any means for Allah to have any knowable essence. Allah can impose on Himself a specific attribute but stands clearly distinct from it (Surah Al-An’am 6.12). Shehadi (1964:37) comments that the end of the knowledge of the Muslim when looking at the God of the Quran stares an inability to know Him. Akhtar (1990:180-181) makes the point even more emphatic in that the revelation of the Quran, unlike the Gospel, does not comment or reveal anything about the essence of Allah. When the Muslim asserts that Allah is all wise or all loving, these descriptions are attributed to him without any bearing on the actual revelation of his person or ontology. Allah is therefore named and known from his will or effects, but not identified with them. Gilchrist (2003:55) sums it up by saying in conclusion we are left with a somewhat static concept of Allah. We cannot really predict what he will do, who he is, or predict how he will react, because he is not bound by any knowable character or distinctiveness. The Quran does indeed provide itself with numerous problems because we read that Allah ‘’leads astray’ (Surah Al-Ra’d 13.27) as well as ‘guides’ those on the right path (Surah Ibrahim14.4). Allah can therefore act contradictory to His own revealed attributes because He is not bound by them.
When we look at the central perceptions of both Christian and Islamic theology, there seems to be a clear difference in perspective concerning the way Christian and Muslim articulate their faith. Christians view the full revelation of Jesus Christ as the foundational means to understand and know God. Muslims are not concerned with ‘knowing’ God but rather their submission to him. From a Christian perspective, we can see there is clear problems with a deity that is just known through his volition and pure will. Ultimately, we are not assured who the God of Islam is or even determine what he will do, as he is not what he does. The central purpose of the Christian Scriptures is to lead people to know their God, the central purpose of the Islamic text if for Muslims to submit to their God. In the Islamic conception, Jesus is therefore just an example of submission where in the Christian conception he is the very definition of god and example of true Worship.
The main objective of this article was to establish if the revelation of the person of Jesus Christ in both the Christian and Islamic conception brings us to a broader understanding of who God is. I have depicted two perspectives that are central to this discussion. In the first section, we can see that the Christian viewpoint affirms that Jesus was more than just a good man, but He was a God man. Even though we recognize that Jesus is sent by Yahweh, He revealed Himself completely as the identity of Yahweh. Jesus does not just do the will of the Father He acts as God and even takes the seat of Yahweh.
In the second section, I have shown that the Islamic conception of Christ shows over a period of time he was turned into a demi-god. Muslim scholars also deny any association with the One God as revealed in the Quran. I also showed that these scholars think that Jesus was the Son of God that was physically generated through a consort. They also claim that Jesus was a much-esteemed example but He was not God.
In the third section, I showed that the Biblical data clearly reveals Jesus to be both the culmination of the Messianic expectation and even more to be Divine. Christ clearly associates Himself with the divine Son of Man depicted in the Old Testament and relates that He is Yahweh. There is also a clear understanding that Jesus bared the titles God and the Word of God and He emphatically revealed the Father because He was of the same substance as the Father.
In the fourth section, I showed that the Christian conception of God cannot be detached from the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the full expression of God and only in Him, can we really know God and determine His character. God is tangible in Christ and even though He is beyond our comprehension, He is still engaged amongst His people. The Christian God is essentially love and love seeks to be known and to know. Jesus is the expression of that love in His acts and person. The Allah of the Quran is neither conceived nor present amongst his people. The person of Jesus Christ has no real bearing on how Allah is to be known. The only thing Jesus can add to our understanding of Allah in the Quran is to bring us unto submission to Him.
I believe that our perception of Christ will ultimately determine our conception of God and therefore it is of ultimate importance to make sure that Jesus Christ is depicted in such a manner that brings clarity to who He really is. As John noticed; “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (17:3).” May we endeavour to never forget this!
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