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.
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.
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