The Fading Isa of the Quran by Pastor Rudolph Boshoff

(15-minute read). 

There are 36 references to Jesus in the Quran, compared with 69 for Abraham and 136 for Moses. The references to Jesus can be grouped under six main headings: Christ’s Birth; Christ’s Mission; Christ’s Miracles; Christ’s identity; Christ’s Prophethood; Christ’s future predictions. Because we are pressed for time, we will look at:

  • Christ’s Virgin Birth.
  • Christ’s exclusive sinlessness and then;
  • Christ’s titles: Messiah/ Son of God/ Word of God.

I have left the Prophethood of Jesus out as Muslims and Christians agree as to the function bestowed on Christ, even though we disagree on the content. I also left the title attributed to Jesus as the ‘spirit from Allah’, as I am pressed for time again!

Jesus Christ’s Virgin birth:

Both the Quran and the Bible teach that he was conceived of a woman only, his mother Mary before she had known any man. The virgin birth of Jesus taught so plainly in the Bible, is no less clearly taught in the Quran. In his Gospel Matthew (1.18-25) states that he was conceived in Mary of the Holy Spirit in fulfilment of a prophecy in Isaiah 7.14 (“a virgin shall conceive and bear a son”), while Luke also records the unusual conception, stating unambiguously that Mary was a virgin whom no man had touched when Jesus was conceived in her by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1.26-35). In the Quran, likewise, we find much the same teaching (Surah 3.45-47 & Surah 19.17-21). On the Muslim perspective on the Virgin birth and its meaning, John Gilchrist writes:

“Jesus’ conception was no different to the creation of Adam. Both of them simply came into being by creative fiat (accomplishment) through the Word of God alone.”[1]

Sayyid Effendi mentions:

“Because of this strange fact the Christians have thought of Him to be the Son of God. Yet He cannot necessarily be so. He can only be like Adam. Adam also was created of dust by the word of God. Moreover, Adam had no mother also, and therefore he is still more wonderful than Jesus. As Adam cannot be called the Son of God because of his having been created without a father or mother, likewise Jesus also, who was only without a father cannot be called the Son of God.[2]

What is the Christian understanding of the Virgin Birth?

A Christian can readily agree that the virgin birth, as an expression of God’s power, is indeed no more wonderful than the creation of Adam. Matthew (1:20-21) in his account mentions that the reason for the Virgin Birth:

“For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”[3]

The Quran affirms Christ’s unique birth, but neglect to inform us why it was truly unique. Jesus was not just God’s spokesperson, but also God’s redeemerLuke (1:31-35) in His account mentions another reason for the Virgin Birth:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”

A Second reality in Scripture is that Jesus would be the Son of God. Here is the essential difference between the Quranic perspective and the Biblical context. The essential purpose of the Virgin Birth was to depict Jesus Christ as both “Lord and Saviour,” something the rest of the New Testament affirms (2 Pet.1:11, 3:18, Titus 2:3). John Gilchrist writes;

“In Luke, it is the person of Jesus that explains his unique conception, in Matthew it is his redemptive mission that explains the unique purpose for which he came to earth – this is the ‘sign’ that was signified in his exceptional birth.”[4]

Jesus Christ’s exclusive sinlessness

The Quran testifies to the exclusive sinlessness of Jesus and there is no mention whatsoever of sin in connection with him. The Quran also seem to teach that even prophets are not free from sin. (cf. Adam and Eve (7:23); Noah (11:47); Abraham (26:80-82); Moses (28:16); Muhammad (40:55). While the quran tells us that other prophets have sinned, there is not a hint there, or anywhere else in Islamic literature, of sin in Jesus. In Surah Maryam (19:19) the Angel from God announced to Mary -that she was to receive a “holy son” and Surah Ali’ Imran (3:36) indicates that Jesus at His birth was untouched by Satan.[5]  What was the Purpose of Christ’s Sinless perfection in Scripture? John the Apostle writes:

“My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world (1 John 2:1-2. NLT).

Peter writes:

“you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

The Apostle John and Peter therefore write that the purpose of Christ’s sinless perfection was to be the perfect sinless mediator between God and man, because no one sinful could have access to the presence of the Father, but also to be a perfect sacrifice for our sins! [6]

 

Jesus Christ’s identity

In the Qur’an, we find Jesus adorned with various titles:

“he is the servant (‘abd) of God, the prophet (nabi) of god, a sign (aya) of God, an example (mathal),  a witness (shahid), and a mercy (rahma), and he is also eminent (wajih), brought near to God (min al-muqarrabin), one of the upright (min al-salihin), and blessed (mubarak). The title “Al Masih” is also used of Him, but it is probable that this should be taken simply as an honorific title, a kind of nickname, rather than bearing the full weight of meaning that the term bears in the Jewish and Christian traditions.”[7]

It is important to note that the titles ascribed to Christ in the Qur’an has no real bearing on the person of Jesus Christ as in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Even though the Qur’an concedes these unique titles, “it constantly downplays them and endeavours to eliminate their uniqueness” [8]

 Let us look at a few titles presented in the Quran that is also mentioned in the Jewish-Christian Scriptures:

Jesus the Messiah:

Only Jesus has the title Messiah in the Quran and the full Quranic name for Jesus is Al-Masihu Isa – “the Messiah Jesus” specifically mentioned in Surah Maryam (4.157, 4.171).[9]

“Jesus receives the title Messiah (Christ) eleven times in the Quran, all in Medinan suras . . . While no explanation is offered of the title Messiah, and it is applied to Jesus at all periods of his life from birth to exaltation, yet it appears to have a particular sense.[10]

Only Jesus is the Messiah in the New Testament! The common word used for Messiah in the New Testament, in the original Greek texts, is ‘ho Christos’. Twice it is said to be a translation of the word Messiahs (John 1.41, 4.25). Just as the Quran uses the definite article al to apply the title to Jesus alone, so in the Christian Scriptures he is constantly called ‘’ho Christos’’, that is, the Messiah. The word ‘’Christos’’ occurs about 350 times in the NT. It is often found in the combinations “Jesus Christ” and “Christ Jesus,” and sometimes functions as a second name. John Gilchrist writes:

“The Qur’an admits that Jesus was the Messiah, but it misses the impact of the title completely. It is unaware that the Messiah was not to be an ordinary prophet but the one of whom God said to David: ‘I will be his father, and he shall be my son’ (2 Samuel 7:14). In the same psalm the Lord said of him: ‘He shall cry to me, “You are my Father”’ (Psalm 89:26). The Messiah was to be God’s own Son of whom David’s son Solomon had been merely a shadow.”[11]

The Messiah in the Jewish-Christian milieu would therefore be both Son and Suffering Messiah. [12]

“From the Jewish and Christian scriptures we can see why Jesus was indeed the Messiah to come, a fact which the Qur’an readily admits. But it is the whole purpose for which he received his anointing that is missed in the Qur’an. The Anointed One, ha mashiah, the Messiah, was to come into the world as the climactic figurehead, the Son of God, in human form. He was to be no ordinary prophet as the Jews themselves knew – he is yet to become the sovereign Lord of God’s eternal kingdom over which he will rule forever. But he came the first time into the world to lay down his life and open the door so that, by faith in him, countless millions would be able to receive the forgiveness of their sins and become heirs of his eternal kingdom.”[13]

Old Testament on the Nature of the Messiah:

1. He Would Exist Before Time
The Messiah would be:
Old Testament
Prophecy

New Testament
Fulfillment
Eternal
From eternity and everlasting
Psalm 102:25-27
Proverbs 8:22-23
Isaiah 9:6
Isaiah 48:16
Micah 5:2
Colossians 1:17
John 1:1-2 
John 8:58 
John 17:5
Revelation 1:8
2. God Come Down in Human Form
 

Old Testament
Prophecy

New Testament
Fulfillment
The Messiah would be:
The Creator of all
LORD
Holy
God

Both God and man

Psalm 102:25-27
Psalm 110:1
Daniel 9:24
Psalm 45:6-7
Isaiah 7:14
Isaiah 40:3
Jeremiah 23:5-6
Zechariah 11:10-11
Zechariah 11:12-13 
Jeremiah 23:5-6
Isaiah 9:6
Zechariah 12:10
Zechariah 13:7
John 1:3
Matthew 22:41-45
Luke 1:35
Hebrews 1:8-9
John 10:30
John 12:45 
John 13:13

John 14:7

John 10:30
John 14:9
Philippians 2:6-8 
Colossians 2:9
1

 

Jesus the Son of God:

Surah al-Ikhlas (112:1-4) mentions:

“Say: “God is Unique! God, the Source [of everything]. He has not fathered anyone nor was He fathered, and there is nothing comparable to Him!”

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 God, that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be’ and it is”.

In the Qur’an, the title ‘’Son of God’’ is seen as an abhorrent attack on monotheism for two reasons: First, God does not sire children as humans do and secondly, God’s uniqueness means that He is the only unique God, without any God’s beside Him. There are three things that we need to say from a Biblical perspective:

“Ancient Semitics and Orientals used the phrase “Son of…” to indicate likeness or sameness of nature and equality of being.”[14]

When the Jews hear Jesus pronouncing He was the Son of God, they directly linked it to Him likening Himself unto the unique status and identity of God. That is why they claim that the law condemns blasphemers of which Jesus was one (Joh.19:7, 5:18). The Biblical evidence shows that Jesus was the Eternal Son of God, not just a Son of God (Heb.1:2, Col.1:13-14, 17; Joh.8:54-56, 58). Son of God does not means a physical generated Son that was incarnated by the means of a consort! Dean Halverson explains that:

“In the Arabic language, there are two words for expressing “Son of”: walad and Ibn. Walad definitely denotes becoming a son through union of a male and female. We as Christians would agree that Jesus was not a ‘waladdu’llah’ – “Son of God”- in that sense… Unlike walad, however, the word ibn can be used in a metaphorical sense. For example, Arabs themselves talk about a traveller as being an ‘ibnu’ssabil’ – “Son of the road” ”. They obviously do not mean by such a phrase that one has had sexual relations with the road. It is in this wider metaphorical sense that Jesus is understood as being the Son of God.[15] 

An important observation needs to be given here!Where does the Qur’an even get this idea of Jesus being the physical offspring of Mary and God? John Gilchrist affirms that the geographical and sociological influence only points to one source of origin:

“The Qur’an, in every instance where it attacks the Christian belief that Jesus is the Son of God, is actually directing its onslaught at the Arian Son of God! The Book [Qur’an] nowhere shows any comprehension of the fundamental Christian belief in Jesus, that he is a divine figure, uncreated at any point in time, who has been one with the Father from all eternity, who took on human form and became the man Jesus… The Qur’an is guilty of a clear anachronism when it challenges the Christians in Muhammad’s day with making claims about Jesus that were actually proclaimed by Arians centuries earlier, claims that had disappeared two hundred years prior to Islam… Arius always believed and taught that Jesus, the Son of God, was brought into existence by the will of the Father and that he was dependent on a creative power of God to have become the begotten Son of God. This is exactly the position that the Qur’an attacks time and again (that he took a ‘partner’ to himself), but it has unfortunately assailed a concept that had become obsolete centuries before its time, and it errs in charging the Christians of Muhammad’s time with believing only what the Arians had believed centuries earlier.”[16]

 Timothy George affirms,

What is rejected in the Quran itself is not the proper Christian doctrine of the Trinity but rather a heretical belief in three gods. Christians believe just as strongly as Muslims in the oneness of God. We can agree with the Quran in its rejection of a concocted Tritheism.”[17]

1 John 5:20 says:

“And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”

During His trial before the Jewish leaders, the High Priest demanded of Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63). “’Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matthew 26:64). The Jewish leaders responded by accusing Jesus of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65-66). Later, before Pontius Pilate, “The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God’” (John 19:7). Why would His claiming to be the Son of God be considered blasphemy and be worthy of a death sentence? The Jewish leaders understood exactly what Jesus meant by the phrase “Son of God.” To be the Son of God is to be of the same nature as God. The Son of God is “of God.” The claim to be of the same nature as God—to in fact be God—was blasphemy to the Jewish leaders; therefore, they demanded Jesus’ death, in keeping with Leviticus 24:15. Hebrews 1:3 expresses this very clearly, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”[18]

Jesus as the Word of God:

Jesus is depicted in the Qur’an as the Word of Allah in Surah Al’ Imran (3:39[19], 45), Surah al-Nisa (4:171).  

“The key issue here is that Jesus himself is called a Word from Allah – kalimatim-minhu – a Word from him, and kalimatuhu – his Word. It is the suffix hu (him) that gives the title its special definition. A word did not come to Jesus like those that came to the prophets before him; he himself is the Word that came from Allah himself. Other prophets brought a message from Allah; Jesus himself is the Word that came from Allah.”[20]

Muslims would say ‘’the word’’ refers to Jesus only because he was created by the word or command of Allah.[21] For Christians the title “Word of God” is more explicit. John 1:1-3; 14; 18 reads:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being… And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth… No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

Dr. Edward Dalcour, a Greek exegete comments:

In the beginning before time, the Word was (ēn) already existing [eternally, cf. Phil. 2:6], and the Word was with [pros], distinctly and intimately, God [the Father], and the Word as to His essential nature/essence [i.e., qualitatively] was fully God [theos—in the same sense, but not the same person as that of God the Father].” Two distinct persons sharing the same nature of God”.

We also realise that John 1:14 does not denote a presence IN the Apostles but rather shows a clear presence amongst the Apostles! Dr. Edward Dalcour writes:

 “And the Word [who was God] became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the one and only, unique one, from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The verb eskēnōsen (“dwelt among us,” NASB) derives its meaning from the Hebrew term sākan referring to Yahweh coming down to earth to dwell (cf. Exod. 25:8; cf. 2 Sam. 7:5-6). In verse 1, the Apostle John positively affirmed that the Word was (a) eternal/preexistent (1:1a), (b) distinct from God the Father (1:1b), and (c) absolutely God (1:1c). In verse 14, John further identifies the bodily incarnation of God the eternal Word showing that Jesus Christ was not merely a temporary “theophany” (theos + phainō, lit., “God appearance”; e.g., Gen. chaps. 18-19), but rather “the Word became flesh [ho logos sarx egeneto].” The Greek here clearly indicates that God the Son did not “wrap” Himself in flesh as one would put on an outfit or costume, but He actually BECAME (egeneto) flesh.”

In addition, holding to the full context of John 1 Dr. Dalcour writes:

“No one has seen God [the Father] at any time; the only begotten God who is [ho ōn] in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” The prologue of John (vv. 1-18) contains some of the highest Christology in the NT (as does the prologues of Col. and Heb.). After having established the Word’s deity (including His role as the Creator), preexistence, distinction from the Father, and His incarnation, now in verse 18, the perpetual incarnation of the eternal Word is expressed. The phrase (“who is”) present active articular participle ho ōn (“who is,” lit., “the one being”) denoting timeless ongoing existence (as with Rom. 9:5: “Christ according to the flesh, who is [ho ōn, i.e., “the one who is/being always”] over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” Systematic theologian, Robert Reymond remarks on the significance of the articular participle: “The present participle ho ōn . . . indicates a continuing state of being: ‘who is continually in the bosom of the Father.’” In the LXX of Exodus 3:14, we find the same articular participle denoting Yahweh’s eternal existence: Egō eimi ho ōn, literally, “I am the eternal/always existing One.” Thus, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is [ho ōn, i.e., “the one who is/being always”] in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [“exegeted”] Him.”[22]

 

In conclusion:

In our evaluation of common themes presented in both the Qur’an and the Bible, we find that both Christians and Muslims focus upon the unique birth of Christ, His sinlessness, and specific titles of Christ. Even though the Qur’an sets out to parallel these Biblical ideas, it does not render a definition or definitive reason as to why these central themes are important. It is also clear that the author of the Qur’an interacts with derived ideas that does not stem from Orthodox Christianity and confuse as to what Christians believe and construct in their understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ.[23] In closing, allow me to give you a glimpse of what we can declare about the Biblical paradigm about Christ. John Gilchrist writes, 

“The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the records of the life and works of Jesus which history has delivered to us. They are the only historical records of who Jesus was, what he achieved, and what happened to Him… the four canonical gospels disclose him to be a supernatural being within himself. He transfigured himself on a mountain and shore like the sun before three of His closest disciples, Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:2). He claimed that he and the Father are one (John 10:30). He declared that he had pre-existed Abraham (John 8:58) and that he had seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18). He boldly proclaimed that no one can come to the Father but by Him (John 14:6), that he was the door to the Kingdom of God (John 10:9), and that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). He was not a man of His time; He was God’s man for all time.”[24]

Scottish Theologian W. Graham Scroggie writes:

“In the Old Testament Christ is predicted; in the Gospels He is present; in the Acts He is proclaimed; in the Epistles He is possessed; and in the Revelation He is predominant. Christ is the focus of all history, prophecy, and type. Divine revelation converges in Him in the Old Testament, and emerges from Him in the New Testament. Both parts of the Revelation meet in Him; the one part as preparation, and the other, as realization. In this view all parts of the Bible, from books to verses, constitute a Divine progressive revelation of redeeming love; God and man meet in the One who is the God-Man”. [25]

Sources:

[1] The Quran and the historical Jesus. Pg.63.

[2] Effendi in “The Problem of the Birth of Jesus,” The Muslim World, Vol. 15, p. 228.

[3] 1:23 Isa 7:14; 8:8, 10 (Greek version).

[4] The Quran and the historical Jesus. Pg.66.

[5] Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “No person is born but that he is pricked by Satan and he cries from the touch of Satan, except for Mary and her son.”

Abu Huraira said, “Recite the verse if you wish: Verily, I seek refuge for her and her offspring from the cursed Satan.” (3:36)

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 3248, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2366

[6] It should be noted that Muslims believe that Muhammad would be an intercessor in the last day but we need to reiterate Muhammad is not mentioned by name as an intercessor and only God appoints and approves an intercessor. Surah Al Baqarah (2:48; 2:255); Surah Maryam (19.87, 90); Surah Ta Ha (20.108-109); Surah Al Najm (53.26-27). In the Quran God is the only intercessor (6.51, 70; 32.4; 39.44) but in the Bible, Jesus is the perfect mediator and intercessor (1 Tim.2:5) approved by God (Matt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Luk. 3:22). This would fit in with the common interpretation of Sura al-Zukhruf (43:61) that designates that the return of Jesus will be a sign of the Last Hour.

[7] Jesus the complete guide. Edited by Leslie Houlden. Pg. 404.

[8] John Gilchrist, The Qur’an and the Historical Jesus. Pg.10.

[9] Muhammad was unaware of the title until he moved to Medina and, as his contacts with Christians and Jews increased, so he came to learn of the unique appellation given to Jesus and, being unaware of its meaning but seeing no reason to reject it, simply adopted it himself and included it in the Quran without any further ado.

[10] Parrinder, Jesus in the Quran, p. 30.

[11] John Gilchrist, The Quran and the Historical Jesus. Pg.129.

[12] He would be:

  1. Slaughtered like a Silent Lamb[12]
  2. Buried in a Rich Man’s Tomb[12]
  3. Come back to Life[12]
  4. Pray for those Crucified with him[12]

[13] John Gilchrist, The Historical Jesus. Pg.137-138.

[14] Reason from Scriptures with Muslims, Ron Rhodes. Pg.141.

[15]  The compact guide to World Religions, Pg.114

[16] John Gilchrist, The Historical Jesus. Pg.101.

[17] Timothy George, ‘Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad’. Pg.59.

[18] https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-Son-of-God.html

[19] If Jesus is called the Word of God simply because he was created out of a word from Allah, then Adam too should be called “the Word from God” because he also was created out of dust by a word of the command of God (see Sura 3:59). But nowhere does the quran mention him by that designation. It is an expression uniquely used of Jesus Christ.

[20] John Gilchrist, The Historical Jesus. Pg.140-141.

[21] Al Baidhawi says that the expression “Word from God” refers to Jesus Christ who is so called because He was conceived by the word of the command of God, without a father (Sale, quran, p. 48, n. 4).

[22] http://www.christiandefense.org/Article_%20Incarnation%20of%20God%20the%20Son.htm

[23] “The problem for Muslims, and for any interpreter of the Qur’an, is that the title once again parallels the Christian definition of Jesus and is derived from the Christian understanding of Jesus. Just as the titles ‘a Word from Allah’ and ‘the Messiah,’ unique titles given to Jesus, are unexplained in the Qur’an but have highly significant meanings in a Christian context, so here too the admission that Jesus himself was originally a spirit who came from the very heart of God himself to earth is part of the foundational Christian belief in Jesus as God’s eternal Son who became the Son of man. Muhammad knew the titles the Messiah and a Word and Spirit from God from his contact with Christians during his lifetime, but he failed to see their implications and freely attributed them to Jesus, not knowing that they firmly endorsed everything that Christians believe about him and his unique person and mission.”

“One of the ironies of the Qur’an is that it three times makes dogmatic assertions in Surah 4:171 denying the divinity of Jesus. Firstly, ‘the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah;’ then ‘Do not say “three” – Allah is only one God;’ and finally ‘Glorified be he from having a son.’ But in the very same verse it attributes three titles to Jesus that clearly distinguish him from all the other messengers of God, making him unique in his person, that elevate him to being the very thing the Qur’an denies, the Son of God. The titles are ‘the Messiah,’ God’s anointed Saviour and Deliverer, ‘his Word,’ the logos who was with God and is God and who became flesh and dwelt among us, and ‘a spirit from him,’ one who came as a spirit from the throne of God himself to become a man, and who returned there after his ascension to heaven. There you have the divinity of Jesus in the Qur’an – thrice denied, and thrice confirmed, all in the same verse!”

[24] John Gilchrist, The Historical Jesus. Pg.17.

[25] “The Unfolding Drama of Redemption” Pg 31.

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