Islam - Lesson 20

Death, Resurrection and Deity

The description in the Qur'an of Jesus' death, resurrection and deity are different than that of the Bible.

Lesson 20
Watching Now
Death, Resurrection and Deity

Jesus and the Qur'an

Part 2

III. Features of Jesus’ Life in the Qur'an (part 2)

A. Relationship of Jesus to Mary

B. Birth of Jesus

C. Works of Jesus

D. Words of Jesus


E. Death of Jesus

1. Imposter Death

2. Delayed Death

3. Swoon Theory

F. Resurrection and Return of Jesus


IV. Understanding the Deity of Christ

  • In this preview video, Dr. Tim Tennent delves into the teachings of Islam and their significance in understanding the unique perspectives of Muslims and Christianity. The teachings of Islam are based on the Qur'an, which forms the foundation of their beliefs. Through this video, you will gain a better understanding of the key differences between the teachings of Islam and Christianity, and how they shape the worldview of Muslims.

  • Islam is based on teachings in the Qur'an. Knowing the teachings of Islam helps us to understand the uniqueness of the teachings of Christianity and the perspective of Muslims.

  • Arabia in the 6th century was a land where traders and raiders lived. Mecca was a city in which many religions were practiced.

  • In his early life, Muhammad was influenced by Judaism, Christianity and the Hanifs.

  • As Muhammad began telling others about his revelations, he was forced to flee Mecca and went to Medina. After he consolidated his power and influence he returned to Mecca.

  • The text of the Qur'an was revealed directly to Muhammad.

  • The Qur'an has passages that teach about both practical and spiritual aspects of daily life. The world was created in six days and there will be a culmination of events at the end of the age.

  • The first two pillars of the Muslim faith are the confession of faith (Shahadah), and ritual prayer (Salat).

  • Almsgiving (Zakat) and fasting (Sawm) are the third and fourth pillars of the Islamic faith.

  • Pilgrimage (Hajj) is the fifth pillar of Islam.

  • Da'wah and jihad are two methods that the Qur'an describes for Muslims to approach infidels.

  • After Muhammad's death in 632 AD, he was succeeded by the four "rightly guided caliphs."

  • The split between the Sunni and Shi'a groups began when there was a disagreement over who should succeed Muhammad after he died. Sufi Islam is the mystical expression of Islam and could be compared to the monastic movement in Christianity.

  • Many Muslims consider the Hadith an important source of information for guidance in how to live their lives.

  • Sharia is Islamic religious law which regulates both public and private aspects of life.

  • Different groups within the Sunni and Shia traditions have various perspectives on how the teachings in the Qur'an and Hadith should be interpreted and applied.

  • Sufi Muslims are more contemplative, mystical, individualistic, syncretistic, and non-legalistic than someone who is an orthodox Muslim.

  • Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Hausa and Tiv.

  • Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Yoruba and Maguzawa.

  • The Qur'an contains a description of Jesus' life and ministry.

  • The description in the Qur'an of Jesus' death, resurrection and deity are different than that of the Bible.

  • Islam does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity.

  • Islam has clear teachings in cultural areas such as the significance of beards, acceptable types of clothing, behavior and acceptable clothing for females, and food and dietary restrictions.

  • In order to make it easier for Muslims to understand and accept the message of the gospel, Christians can approach them with the assumption that they probably misunderstand the Gospel, that the number one stumbling block for Muslims is Christianity, and that the most effective approach is Jesus plus nothing.

  • Comparison of teachings of Christianity and Islam.

In this course, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of Islam, its origins, and its core beliefs and practices. You'll explore the Five Pillars of Islam, the Qur'an, and the Hadith, and learn about the major Islamic sects, including Sunni, Shi'a, and Sufism. The class will also discuss Islam's relationship with Christianity and Judaism, highlighting the importance of interfaith dialogue. Finally, you'll delve into contemporary issues in Islam, such as the role of women, Islamic law and human rights, and the interaction between Islam and politics.


III. Features of Jesus’ Life in the Qur’an (part 2)

The description in the Qur’an of Jesus death, resurrection, and deity are different than that of the Qur’an.

E. Death of Jesus

We actually are dealing today a little more with the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ, how that is viewed by Muslims. I want to kind of use this as a great Quranic passage as well as basically a summary of what we have done up to this point in our previous lecture. I think maybe a little more clarity might be helpful.

I want to summarize with more explicitness and look particularly at passages in the Qur’an where we can see how this is played out. How Muslims interpret the death of Christ is what we want to focus on briefly. Essentially there are two major theories with one minor theory. We will look at how this plays out.

Imposter Death

The first is what we will call the imposter death. An imposter death means that the one who died on the cross in 33 a.d. was in fact not actually Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, it was some imposter. Some say Judas and other ideas about who this person was. From our point of view, this is the imposter idea.

Delayed Death

The second major interpretation of the death of Christ is what I would call a “delayed death.” That is probably the simplest way to put it. A delayed death means the death of Christ, which is as we will see quite explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an, is shifted to an eschatological moment. In other words, that Christ’s death as referred to in the Qur’an refers to a death at the end of time after Christ comes back. So it is part of an eschatological event.

Swoon Theory

The third view of the death of Christ is a variation in some ways of these two. Neither of these actually asserts that Christ died on the cross. The third one would be some kind of swoon theory which would argue that Jesus was nailed to the cross, but he didn’t actually die on the cross. He was taken down from the cross after three or four hours and then at that point he was revived and he could have then joined that one with the eschatological death as defined in some future event.

Let’s look at the text as our great Qur’anic passage. I want to basically argue for our purpose in this class, just for question purposes, that I am only going to be looking mainly at Surah 4:156. But I want this as a background to also look at Surah 19:34, but the other one will be the more important text for our purposes.

Let’s turn first to Surah 19:34 and following. Surah 19:34 and following I think lays out the most basic statement of what we are looking at here. This is the passage where you have a clear example of interpolation from the pseudopigraphal material that we discussed in class before. This is where you have Jesus speaking from the cradle as a baby. He says, beginning in ayah 29: “How can we speak with a babe in the cradle? Whereupon he spoke and said, ‘I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the injil and ordained me a prophet. His blessing is upon wherever I go and he has commanded me to be steadfast in prayer and to give alms to the poor as long as I shall live.’” This is a clear Islamic doctrine here, the prayer, the almsgiving, etc. again from Jewish practice. “He has exhorted me to honor my mother.” That is a reference to Mary once again. We looked at that last time. “And has purged me of vanity and wickedness.” This is the part we need to look at: “I was blessed on the day I was born and blessed I shall be on the day of my death and may peace be upon me on the day when I shall be raised to life.” That is really the key point. What in the world is meant by that phrase because you actually have a threefold development here in this passage? You have “blessed he will be on the day of his birth…death….resurrection.”

F. Resurrection and Return of Jesus

Let’s just be clear about at least the third point, the word “resurrection.” Here I think we should not get overly excited about this passage in light of Easter. This certainly would be a reference to the general resurrection, little “r”, not necessarily the “aparaché” first fruits, the Resurrection. What we will consider at this point is the pausing of the death of Christ in this sequence. This is the most important thing, that in this sequence the death of Christ occurs between his birth and the general resurrection. The question is, does this imply a death in real time as we understand this, at the end of his earthly ministry; or is his death pushing at this direction; or is it something that is to take place much later with a general resurrection? This is the question that we need to raise. What is the sequence of these events, and what are we talking about?

The main passage which has been used to explain and interpret this one is a case where this is basically a very ambiguous statement. Muslims will actually go to the next passage, which is Surah 4 ayah 156 and following for a more substantial dealing with the death of Christ. Before you turn there, while we are still on Surah 19, let me just make a few comments about how this develops because while you are in the neighborhood, you should note this is one of the what is called “shirk” passages. “Allah forbid that he himself should beget a son.” He is referred to as the son of Mary, the number one reference of Christ. Yet the sects are divided concerning Jesus. We discussed that last time. All of these are found in this passage, therefore it is a very important passage in relation to Christ. Early on in this chapter, ayah 18-21, you have the actual encounter of the angel with Mary, who says: “How shall I bear a child when I am a virgin” etc.

Starting with Surah 4:156, it is Allah who has sealed their hearts on account of their unbelief. They have no faith except for a few of them. “They denied the

truth and uttered a monstrous falsehood against Mary. They declared, ‘We have put to death the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, the apostle of Allah.’” That is in quotation marks, quoting their words, the opponents’ words. “We have put to death the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of Allah.” This is going back to Allah. “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did.” There are many translations of that ayah, but that is basically the gist of it. “Those who disagreed about him were in doubt concerning his death, for what they knew about it was sheer conjecture. They were not sure that they had slain him and Allah lifted him up to his presence. He is mighty and wise.”

This is where we begin to see the development of all kinds of different thought around Christ. First of all, in this scenario you have the birth of Christ, nobody is arguing with that. But when it comes to the death of Christ as we interpret it in the New Testament, this is actually an imposter. This goes back to our number one here, the imposter theory. That is why it says here, “They were not sure they had slain him. They thought they did.” This thought, “they thought they did” also opens the door to the possibility, “they thought he had died.” Therefore, the swoon theory. But this actually says, “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him.” That in plain meaning would imply that the imposter theory, as opposed to some who argue that crucify must end in death or it is not a crucifixion, therefore it was a swoon thing. But basically, the idea here with most interpreters is that in fact, Jesus was not actually crucified on the cross. This is the swoon theory. Instead, it says, “Allah lifted him up to his presence.” That means we have inserted at this point the ascension. You could say “ascension” or “ascension number one.” This is a little bit like dispensationalism where you have multiple returns of Christ in certain versions of it, where Christ comes back secretly, Christ comes back publicly and all of this. Here you have Christ ascending in various times and ways. It is quite bizarre. This is not to disparage those of you who are pre-tribulation people. We won’t discuss that, but I find it pretty bizarre.

Christ at this point is caught up into heaven in the form of an ascension. Then the question comes, at some point Christ will return. We will look at that in the next ayah or so. Christ will return and then the death of Christ that is clearly mentioned in Surah 19:34. They have to reconcile the fact that Christ died

because the Qur’an clearly says that Jesus died, there is the death of Christ. Therefore, this is put off, which is why we have number two here. This is put off

as a delayed thing. At the eschaton Christ comes back and the gap is put off at that point. Then you have, after the death of Christ, the general resurrection

which now harmonizes these passages. This passage in 19:34 is forced to fit in with this passage. Because on one hand you have, “I was blessed on the day of my birth. I was blessed on the day of my death. I was blessed when I was resurrected.” This clearly has Christ’s own words saying, “When I die I’m going to be resurrected.” So how do you reconcile the death of Christ with the text in 4:156 which clearly teaches it was an imposter, he was not crucified? They did this by moving this whole event toward the general resurrection. Then this leaves open a space where they do not have to deal with the death of Christ physically on Calvary. In fact, a lot of them have Jesus dying in Pakistan, all of these bizarre places. When he comes back, he is here for 50 days, he does this and that in that time and then eventually he dies. Then there is the general resurrection. So they shift all of this to that point, so Christ as a prophet ascends into heaven.

This brings us to this next part of this passage, which is extremely problematic. “There is none among the people of the book but will believe in him before his death; and on the day of resurrection he will be a witness against them.” This has been interpreted in several ways. What is being meant by this whole idea of being a witness against him? Who is being referred to? Who will believe in him before his death? The real turning point is around the word, “his” in the part of the passage which says, “but will believe in him before his death.” The question here in Muslim scholarship is, who does the “his” refer to in that passage? We are on Surah 4:157 and following. See where it says, “There is none among the people of the book that will believe in him before his death.” Focus on the word “his.” His death, that’s the big question. Who is “his” referring to?

If it is referring to Jesus, “None will believe in him before his death,” then this is taken to be this basic scenario where you have his death meaning the death of Christ prior to the general resurrection. This is the reference clearly to Christ’s death. This means in the same passage in Surah 4:156 and following, you have the imposter death theory being posited, that he did not actually die, someone who looked like him and all of that. But you have a clear reference to “his death” in that passage. What they are arguing for here is that the people of the book, Jews and Christians, will not believe in Christ the way the Christians teach, by the time of his death. There is some variation on this, but what they insert here is that there will be a Mahdi figure which will occur at the end of time. This is a figure in most reckonings separate from Christ. This is a Messianic figure. We discussed this concept before. The Mahdi figure will appear at the end of time and there will be a global renewal and revival in the Muslim world. This will spill over and begin to embrace the people of the book. In other words, Jews and Christians will begin to be evangelized - that is how I’m going to say it - they will be reached by the Muslim message. This is an eschatological globalization of Islam. By the way, they believe this is what is happening in the world today, as least part of it, the beginnings of it.

When Christ comes back, it says he will be a testimony against them. It says, “He will be a witness against them.” In this case, the “them” is the people of the book. That Christ will come back and will say to us, “You did not believe in the Muslim message. Why did you believe too much about me? Why did you ascribe to me deity? Why did you ascribe these things to me when in fact I was merely a prophet?” We will look at how this plays out in other passages. That would be one interpretation of this passage. The other would be that the people of the book will believe in him before his death, referring to the people of the book. They have falsely believed in Christ. They falsely believe too much about him and therefore, before their death he will bear witness against them. He will be a witness against these people before they die, before the people of the book die.

There is some debate about what is meant by his death here. But I think the majority view, the main view, would be to view it along these lines, where you

essentially take the death of Christ and postpone it to a delayed death, put it into the eschatological context where Christ comes back. He bears witness against the Christians for not believing in Muhammed. Jesus is a part of this global revival. There are different views of this, but Jesus speaks for a period of 50 days or 40 days, some say even longer. Then he dies, which fulfills that part. After his death comes the general resurrection of all the saints. The whole thing is harmonized between the two passages.

We are going to look at a couple of other passages which represent potential problems with this reconciliation. Let’s look at two more passages. The next one is in Surah 3 ayah 54 and following. This I think is a passage which must be brought out because this seems to basically undermine everything we just talked about in terms of consistency. You can decide for yourself how you interpret it. In Surah 3 ayah 54 you once again have pseudopigraphal material. You have Jesus using clay: “From clay I’ll make likeness of a bird, I’ll breathe into it and it becomes a living bird.” This is the clay/bird thing. Jesus talking about how “I will give sight to the blind, heal the lepers, raise the dead to life.” That is a clear reference to the miracles of Christ. It goes on to talk about, “I will confirm the Torah that is revealed before you.” These are some very familiar themes that we have here.

I want to focus around ayah 54 and 55. “They plotted and Allah plotted.” This is a bizarre, interesting ayah. “They plotted and Allah plotted.” Allah is the supreme plotter, “contrived” in another translation, “They contrived and Allah contrived.” I like “plotter,” but it doesn’t matter. This is Allah, he says, “I’m about to cause you to die and lift you up to me. I shall take you away from the unbelievers and exalt your followers above them until the day of resurrection. Then to me you shall all return and I shall judge your disputes.” That is an interesting statement because it seems to indicate Jesus’ death and lifting up ascension. Everybody admits the ascension at this point. Here is his birth, here is his ascension. Everyone affirms that Jesus ascends to heaven. The death is clearly put in this slot, but not as an imposter. “I’m about to cause you to die.” He is in the midst of all of these dissertations with the Jews. The Jews are plotting his death, or contriving his death. “I’m about to cause you to die and lift you up to me.” Again, this is Allah as the agent of the death of Christ, yet it is viewed as prior to the ascension. Therefore, that seems to be a problem because you still have the same basic framework. You have the death of Christ, the ascension and then you have the general resurrection, which is back to 19:34. Here is simply inserted the ascension. So if you take 19:34 and you unite it to 3:54, 55, then it seems very difficult to find out how those two verses can be reconciled within this framework of 4:156, interpreting his death to be Christ’s death eschatologically.

Let’s look at one more and then we will try to close the gap here. Surah 5 ayah 17 is another interesting passage. Surah 5 ayah 17, also an anti-Christian polemic, seems to be a discussion about the death of Christ going on here. I don’t want to make too much of this, but I think it is worth noting what is said here. “Unbelievers are those who declare, ‘Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary.’” I am interested if your translation is dramatically different than this. “Who could prevent Allah from destroying the Messiah?” Does yours say that? Yes, “if he so wills,” right. “Who could prevent Allah from destroying the Messiah, son of Mary, together with his mother and all the people on the earth?”

This strikes me as somewhat hypothetical. He is saying, “Who could prevent Allah from destroying Jesus if he wanted to?” I think the gist of this, to be fair, is

basically trying to argue against the Christian claims of the Gospel, that Jesus is part of the created order. Jesus is part of creation. Allah is the creator and

therefore Allah has the authority to destroy anything he created. Since Jesus is part of the creation, there is no reason why Allah could not destroy Jesus, as

creator. The basic problem here is that if you take the Muslim view of Christ as opposed to the Christian view of Christ, the Muslims are saying, “We think that the death of Christ was an imposter.” That is clearly the dominant view because of the clear reference in Surah 4. Hypothetically, let’s just argue along the lines that you are trying to argue. There is no reason why Allah could not put Jesus to death if he wanted to. I think that is all it is saying. I don’t think it can be argued that this is a clear reference to the death of Christ. It is just saying, hypothetically Allah could do it, he could destroy Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is part of the creation, Allah is the creator. So they are saying basically, this is all we are arguing, that Jesus is a prophet like Noah or any of the others.

IV. Understanding the Deity of Christ

The Christian view, on the other hand, goes back to where we left off last time. According to the Christian view, Jesus is God, Jesus is divine. The Muslim view is that the Christians are claiming that God in Jesus, died. If Jesus as God died, what would happen to the universe? The whole universe would go into oblivion. How can God die? This whole thing, Allah is the eternal, unchanging God. Jesus died. Therefore, Jesus cannot be God. This is a kind of syllogism. If God by definition is eternal and immutable, and Jesus died, that is a definite example of mutability, it is a change; therefore, Jesus cannot be God. It is this kind of syllogism.

They are arguing that if you accept the Muslim position, even if you do allow that Jesus died, it merely reinforces that Jesus is part of creation. If you say that Jesus died, which is the Christian position, then you have all kinds of theological, philosophical problems. What do you do with a universe in which God died? Obviously, we have to sort through our response to that. But certainly, you can appreciate from their point of view, this is the dichotomy that I think is essentially present in this text. This is an important apologetic issue that we have to deal with what in the world they are saying if this is about allowing for argument’s sake the Christian position.

Most Muslims are very hostile in their treatment about the Christian doctrine of the deity of Christ and the various kinds of claims about the death and

resurrection of Christ. I was really surprised to read H.A.R. Gibb is a well-known Islamist, who argued that in working with Muslims, he found that it is more than just the absolute unity of God that is being discussed here. I think this is a matter of some debate. But most scholars tend to say that really this whole argument hinges on the doctrine of unity, the unity of God. That if you have a definite view of the unity of God, then therefore the Trinity is not a possibility and therefore the incarnation is not a possibility. Therefore, you have all of these problems that we need to deal with in this syllogism.

That is one part of the problem. He argues that there is actually another part of the problem. He says with the Muslims it is not just the matter of denying the Trinity, which is the kind of classic pamphlet type approach to Islam, where the biggest issue is the Trinity. He argues that actually, it is also soteriology itself. It is the whole idea of substitutionary atonement through Christ’s death on the cross. That doctrine itself, quite apart from the idea of the Trinity and Deity of Christ, is something that Muslims find very difficult to accept and swallow. Substitutionary atonement, the whole soteriological conception of the death of Christ and the meaning of the death of Christ is difficult to face.

So I think we have to acknowledge that we have two major difficulties. Even if you were to convince a Muslim that the doctrine of the Trinity is not necessarily incompatible with a doctrine of monotheism, which is our position, what he is arguing is that even if they gave that point to you, it would not necessarily take away the basic soteriological point that, okay, fair enough, but how can somebody two thousand years ago die for my sins and bear my sins?

Let’s develop a little more the resurrection and return of Christ briefly. What we call the resurrection is interpreted mainly as what we call “an ascension.” Back to our original theme, it is put off as the “general resurrection,” which all Jews and Christians and Muslims believe in anyway, so that is not a big problem.

Surah 3:55, “Jesus, I can cause you to die and lift you up to me.” If you leave out the “cause you to die” part, this is the whole idea of being lifted up. Surah 4 ayah 158: “Allah lifted him up to his presence.” These are texts we have already looked at. Surah 19:34: “I was blessed the day I was born and blessed shall I be on the day of my death and may peace be upon me on the day that I shall be raised to life.”

“Raised to life” for us sounds like resurrection language. They would interpret this as general resurrection language. They have another thing about this. This ascension idea happens in several ways. Again, how do you define ascension? Ascension can mean in Islamic ideas, two different ideas. It can be a complete bodily ascension into heaven the way Christians view it, where Christ is taken up into heaven and he returns at his grand return at the end of time at the eschaton. Or, they also allow for the idea of spiritual ascension, the way Muhammed ascended into heaven through the ascension in the Hadith where he goes up on the night journey, which is also referred to in the Qur’an, the famous night journey. Both of those are loosely in the category of ascension language in the Arabic. Therefore, it is perhaps a little looser description and we would use it more precisely in Christian theology.

As far as the return of Christ goes, again we have already seen that the return of Christ is allowed for in this passage in Surah 4:156 and following when it says, “And on the day of resurrection he will be a witness against them.” It is that concept which has opened up the doors to Christ coming back to judge the world and to essentially affirm the Muslim view of Muhammed and of Christ.

We have not yet looked at Surah 43 ayah 61, 62 where we have yet another one. I am interested if your translations are dramatically different than mine. This again refers to Mary’s son here. “Is he better than our own God?” They cite the merits of the Jews, “Truly they are a contentious nation.” That is an interesting passage which we won’t go into at this point. “Jesus was no more than a mortal whom we favored and made an example to the Israelites.” This is a clear, overt denial of the deity of Christ. “Had it been our will, we could have replaced you with angels to succeed you on the earth. He is a portent of the hour of doom. Have no doubt about his coming and follow me. This is the right path, let Satan not mislead you, for he is your sworn enemy.”

The “portent of doom” or “the hour of doom” or “the hour of judgment”, that is even better. Clearly, this is interpreted by Muslim scholars to be the judgment day. In this sense, Jesus being called here a “portent of doom” or a “portent of the hour of judgment” at least some Muslim thinkers cite this in their theology as a reference to the return of Christ when he will “bear witness against them.” That is a very controversial passage, but it adds to the overall view of this idea of the return of Christ. Jesus Himself in the Surah 3 passage, where “he shall be noble in this world and in the next.” So he is favored by Allah which implies that Jesus has stature both in this world and in the world to come. Therefore, there is a reason to include Jesus in some way eschatologically because of the Surah 3:45 passage. When you put Surah 3:45 with Surah 43:51, 52 and Surah 4:156, then you have enough grounds to create a doctrine of Christ being involved eschatologically. When you join with that the desire to relocate the death of Christ at the end, that leaves space for Jesus to do teaching or all kinds of stuff and how you interpret this idea of bearing witness against them. So Jesus now plays a role in the eschaton.

When you add up all of these texts, this is where you have the development of a doctrine of a future role for Christ, even in the Muslim community, which most Christians find quite amazing, that the Muslims would include Jesus so prominently in their eschatological framework. This is the reason why. There is

definite text that must be reconciled and together they form enough of a force that Muslim scholars cannot ignore them, despite the fact that they are almost always in the context of otherwise negative things about Christ; that is, his deity and other kinds of statements. So they are saying it is relatively safe. You are reaffirming Christ as a prophet. You are affirming an important role of Christ to point to Islam as the great fulfillment of the Christian message. Yet you are not prepared to go anymore beyond that and say that Christ is divine. They kind of keep their bases covered at that point.

Let’s talk a little bit about the whole issue of how Muslims interpret the deity of Christ and how we sort through some of these issues.

I am going to try to avoid developing the whole doctrine of the trinity in this class. However, we can do it if we must because it is so important. If necessary, we can at least give you the outline of it or a defense of the deity of Christ in scripture. I would rather assume that and maybe direct particularly to the issues that the Muslims would address and where they are misunderstanding the Christian doctrine. But I am prepared to go back and do some background work so let’s go through a few things on which we want to be clear.

The first problem they have is their understanding of the theantropic nature of the deity of Christ. Because the creedal teaching about the deity of Christ is that we have a union of a God/man where he is fully God and fully man. These are united, however, in one person. Just to be clear on one of the more obvious points, in the New Testament you do not have a distinction between the deity and humanity of Christ the way the Muslims tend to dichotomize it. Muhammed was exposed in Nestorianism. Nestorianism tended to not allow for a true union of the God/man to one person. They were looking at two natures united in one person.

The Muslims do not appreciate this point. They still have problems at the threshold. For example, if Jesus is healing the sick or Jesus is hungry, then the

tendency in Nestorianism is to say, “God can’t be hungry, therefore it must be just the man Jesus who is hungry.” So you tend to have a wedge between the

God/man. But in fact, that is not what orthodox Christianity does. It is a full union of the deity and humanity of Christ into one person. Therefore if Jesus is hungry, the God/man is hungry. We don’t say “God is hungry”, we don’t say “man is hungry” because the God/man is hungry. It is a full unity in one person. You cannot separate the deity and the humanity of Christ when referring to the incarnation. It is a true incarnation. When John says, “The Word became flesh” there is no compromise there. It is a true incarnation.

This is the whole problem with Nestorianism vs. Monophysitism. If you go back to the original lecture we had on that, the Monophysites wanted to say that there was a union that happened, but the minute they actually really united, the humanity was completely obliterated, so all you end up having is a deity walking around. You have God walking around, which is basically what Muslims think our position is. We don’t accept Monophysitism. Monothesis, one nature. Their position is “two natures.”

Historians said, “We can’t accept this, but we are going to maintain the fact that these are operating as two persons. There is no real union of the persons.” The position in Nicaea and of course in Chalcedon in 451 a.d., the Council of Chalcedon, affirmed “one person, two natures.” Everything actually boils down to understanding that basic point because when Jesus died on the cross, the reason we can say that Jesus died for our sins or that God died for us, what we of course mean is the God/man died for us. The reason we can say that the eternal God laid down his life for us is because they are united in one person on the cross. Therefore, because of the significance of the union, the person of Christ is fully united and therefore you can speak about Christ dying on the cross for our sins as the Eternal God.

But because the natures are not confused in the orthodox position, we do not maintain therefore that the nature of God can die in that sense. He is immutable, he cannot die, the deity of Christ is not mutable. Therefore, the Muslims essentially misunderstand the Christian position and they confuse it with either Monophysitism or Nestorianism and therefore they don’t understand that our position is that the God/man can die on the cross, fully satisfy for our sins without in any way interrupting the nature of God in creation, etc.

I admit that there is significant disagreement among Christians themselves about the nature of the emptying, the kinosis, because in some versions of this when you compare the Lutheran view, you compare the Reformed view, other views, you will see that there is a lot of discussion about whether or not, when the incarnation occurred, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, how does that affect the communion of the Trinity in heaven? If the Son is on earth, a member of the Trinity is on earth, does this continue? Is the Son present on earth, not present in heaven, and all of this? That is a matter that does not come into the Muslim discussion at all, particularly. That is a legitimate discussion in Christian circles about the nature of the members of the Trinity during the incarnation.

I think the Muslim view is actually much more basic and fundamental. It has to do with the relationship of the person and the natures of Christ and therefore, we don’t accept the syllogism. We also agree that God cannot die in that precise sense of the word. What we are saying is that the God/man died, the person of Jesus Christ died; but that in no way affected the nature of God. That means that even though Christ is in the grave, the Logos of God is still present and is untouched by the death of Christ in the purest sense of the word.

Let me say one last thing. This is something you should pick up in theology class. When you are talking to Muslims about the deity of Christ, don’t miss the full orbed way the New Testament develops the deity of Christ. There was a famous debate we watched in previous classes. He kept saying, “Show me anywhere in the Bible where Jesus says, ‘I am God’ or ‘worship me’ and I will be a Christian” he said. He says this over and over again to the Christian. This is a Christian debater who is prepared, he was born in Bethlehem; he grew up in the Muslim world; he is a committed Christian. He never could really respond to that. He never really hit the nail on the head, why Christians are not disturbed by this point that Jesus never uttered the words, “I am God” or “worship me.”

Part of the reason for that, by the way, is because of the sense of a union, that Jesus is the God/man and Jesus is operating within the context of Jewish monotheism is just the way we operate, in this case in Islamic monotheism.

Don’t forget that Jesus Christ in the New Testament is given the attributes of deity. He is referred to as “eternal”. “In the beginning, the Word was with God, the Word was God” for example. That is an attribute of deity. One has to recognize that is part of the evidence. Jesus is given the offices of deity. There are several offices, like judging, etc; creator in Col 1:16 he is the creator; “judge the world.” Those are offices that only God holds. Various prerogatives of deity as forgiving sin. His opponents certainly understood that this was a claim to deity. That Jesus raises the dead. He does receive worship at least six or seven times in the Gospels and in the New Testament. Jesus directly receives worship, even though he does not directly use the words, “worship me.” So those are prerogatives of deity.

Jesus also is given various other names of deity: Immanuel, the Logos, the Son of Man. The whole Son of Man thing of course has been widely misunderstood generally by people, not just Muslims. The whole “Son of God, Son of Man” as if Son of Man is a reference to his humanity, when in fact it is the opposite. A very exalted term from Daniel is a reference. Frequently the Son of Man citations are in the context of exultation. “You will see the Son of Man returning in power and glory.” That is a Daniel 7 reference. And of course, Jesus is explicitly called God on several occasions in the New Testament. “The Word was God, the only begotten of God.” The greatest declaration of the deity of Christ in the Gospels comes from Thomas, who falls on his knees , “My Lord and my God.” Titus 2:13, “Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Heb 1:8, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” You have the text where the Father refers to the Son as “God,” so you have Jesus called “God.”

The point is, there is a vast store of information in the New Testament which points to the deity of Christ. One should not be caught in this syllogistic type

thing, “Where did Jesus say? Jesus never says ‘I am God.’ He never says, ‘Worship me’ and therefore Jesus is not God and someone to be worshiped.” That kind of thing the Muslims do shows frankly theological shallowness in appreciating the actual development of the deity of Christ, which is done very carefully in the New Testament in a way that is appropriate for their particular context, where monotheism is the way and is the Jewish context being revealed.