Lecture 19: Introduction, Titles and Life
Course: Introduction to Islam
Lecture: Introduction, Titles and Life
The Qur’an contains a description of Jesus’ life and ministry.
This part of the course starts a whole new series of lectures entitled, “Building an Evangelical Apologetic Response to Islam.” There are several parts to this and they focus on various things which I think are important for you to be aware of, either in the Qur’an or in theological concepts, in witnessing to Muslims.
The first of course is the importance of understanding what the Qur’an actually teaches about Jesus because this is a very important point. In my own thinking about this, I realize there are people who very strongly disagree with me on this point, so I am not speaking with a common voice among Christians to this point.
My personal belief is that it is a great advantage for Christians to know and make use of the Qur’an and the Hadith in talking and witnessing to Muslims. There are people who say that if you quote the Qur’an, you are attributing authority to it and therefore you are essentially giving away the ground before you even start. I do not believe that is true because I think that in any communication event you have to start with where people are. Therefore it is our responsibility to move into their frame of reference. The fact is that Muslims’ frame of reference is in fact the Qur’an. I am not going to tell somebody when they come to Christ, “All you need is the Qur’an.” Of course, they need to become Biblically oriented and eager readers of the Bible, as Ralph Winters says. Of course that is true.
When you have conversations with Muslims, the first way to have a conversation with a Muslim to win one, is to have a respectful encounter. Muslims feel that Christians don’t respect them. They think historically we have not respected them. We have more numerically as Christians than others. They think that we have maligned their religion. Maybe they are wrong on all of those points. Maybe we don’t deserve any of those charges. That does not matter. None of those things matter. All that matters is, that is the perception. You have to deal with the reality of perception. They believe that we have not taken the Qur’an seriously We dismiss it as a bunch of gobbledygook. Therefore, if they find a Christian who has actually read the Qur’an, actually thought about what it says, and asks them about verses or whatever, it is a way of creating a relationship. All witnessing today boils down to in some way or another, relationship. How can we build bridges in order to communicate? So I think it is worth noting some points that are brought out in the Qur’an both from our side and from their side.
There are a number of wonderful books that have been written on the topic of Jesus in the Qur’an. One is this book by Geoffrey Parrinder which you will notice on the front has the bismillah, “Jesus and the Qur’an.” This is an entire study on the work of Christ in the Qur’an. This is more of your standard kind of doctrinal study. This is somebody who has gone through the whole Qur’an and picked out every verse which mentions Jesus and comments about it.
There is another book, entitled “Christ in Islam and Christianity” by Neil Robinson). This book by Neil Robinson I think also has bismillah on the front, or at
least, “Allah.” It is a black book, very nice-looking book. It is a book that deals theologically with the whole thing. It compares the theology of Jesus in the Qur’an and the theology of Jesus in the New Testament. It presents more penetrating work in that sense theologically.
There is this book by Kenneth Cragg, another well-known Islamist, “The Christ and the Faith.” This book is a very serious book, a 400-page book which is dealing with the whole concept of Messiah in all of the religions. This is God in Islam, Messiah in Jewry, Christology in India, the Buddha and the self, dealing with Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism and in what way there is a concept of Christ’s function theologically in these religions. This is a very important work and you should at least be aware of it, by Kenneth Cragg.
There are many other books that are out there. There is a wonderful little book, it is a very small book, only 130 pages, by Clifford Geertz, the famous sociologist, “Islam Observed.” This book is a lot like what we talked about in this class regarding Nigeria, though he does not mention Nigeria. It is called “Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia.” He is looking at Islam as it is observed throughout the Muslim world. Therefore, he is making a lot of the points that we have made, in the sense that he is acknowledging the fact that Islam as you observe it does not necessarily fit with classical Islam. This is a very well-known little book. All of these books are very helpful.
I want to review some of the conclusions of this to help us focus on some points. Obviously, most of you have done a study of the Qur’an by now or a large part of it and you may be familiar with some of this. Let’s at least summarize a lot of this material.
First of all, Jesus is given more honorific titles in the Qur’an than any other religious leader mentioned in the Qur’an, including Muhammed. That in itself is a great conversation starter, to say to a Muslim, “Did you know that Jesus is given more honorific titles than any other religious leader in the whole Qur’an?” He is called a son, a mercy, a witness, an example, Jesus, Messiah, son of Mary; titles like messenger, prophet, servant, word, spirit of God, etc.
Another thing that you can say to Muslims is, “Did you know that three of the Surahs are named after Christ: Surah 3, Surah 5 and Surah 19, some reference to Christ?” These are nice things just to kind of get the conversation going. Obviously, Muslims most commonly refer to Christ as “Isa”, Arabic for Jesus, and son of Mary. We want to kind of break this down. I have done a study of the whole Qur’an in terms of how it breaks down in all the Surahs. I won’t bore you with that. We will focus on some of the most important ones.
II. Titles of Jesus in the Qur’an
A. Son of Mary (23x)
First is Son of Mary, which is used 23 times in the Qur’an, 23 times. Sixteen times it is used in connection with the word, “Jesus” - “Jesus, son of Mary”; seven times completely alone or with some other title. The ironic thing about this is that the expression “son of Mary” only appears one time in the entire New Testament, it occurs in Mark 6:3. It is not used in the Qur’an at all in a pejorative way, but it is unusual that the number one way Jesus is referred to is in reference to Mary. What does that tell you? What evidence might you conclude from the fact that the number one way to which Jesus is referred is a title which is almost absent from the Bible, used only one time. It says to you that when Jews received knowledge of Christianity, there was a huge emphasis on Mary. It may very well describe a post New Testament usage. You have Athenians, with whom Muhammed took refuge, who used the expression, “Son of Mary.” It is not a title used commonly among Eastern churches, but it does appear in a pseudepigraphal work entitled “The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus.” We know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Muhammed had access to this work because he directly quotes from it in the Qur’an and then he makes reference to it. That phrase, “son of Mary” appears five times in that work.
That is the number one way that he is referred to in the Qur’an. It does say something about the connectedness of Muhammed’s theology of Jesus with the New Testament as opposed to post New Testament usage of Christ.
B. Servant (3x)
The second major way Christ is referred to is the idea of servant. Three times he is connected with a suffering servant passage in the Old Testament. That is a very valuable thing to know. What a great way to introduce the suffering of Christ when even the Qur’an makes the connection three times. Jesus is also called a prophet in connection with the word “servant” one time. Prophets appear, according to Muslims, only among the peoples of the book. They distinguish in their thinking between a Rasul and a Nabi, a messenger and a prophet. A prophet was given greater honor than a messenger, yet Jesus is called a “prophet.” A prophet is believed to speak to more people than a messenger. These are important points.
C. Messenger (10x)
The third title is this title of “messenger” used 10 times. It is important because this is the only way that Allah communicates with the seen world, through a messenger. It does confirm that the Islamic religion is not deistic in a pure sense. I think it has deistic tendencies, but I don’t think it is actually fully deistic because you do have border crossings, they are just not as profound as in the Gospels.
In the New Testament, the word “messenger” can refer to a human-like John the Baptist, who is referred to as a messenger; but it generally refers to a heavenly messenger, an “angelos,” an angel as a messenger. This is the most common title for Muhammed and it is often translated in your English Qur’ans as “apostle” as well as the word “messenger.” So Jesus is given a title similar to Muhammed. That is also interesting. You have to say, “There is no God but Allah, Muhammed is the prophet of Allah.” Fine. Allah is a great prophet, a messenger of God. Jesus was also called a messenger/prophet of God.
D. Word (Kalima)
The fourth one is the most remarkable. This is probably the most important title given to Jesus in the Qur’an. This is that passage in Surah 3 where he refers to Jesus as “The Word.” Actually, I think it is used by itself in this one case. It is actually used in connection with other titles in a couple of other places in the Qur’an, in Surah 4 and Surah 19. In one case, though, it is used in a more pejorative way. In another place, Surah 19:35 it can be rendered, “This is Jesus, son of Mary, the Word of Truth.” You have two different ways the expression “word” is used in the Qur’an. Word in the sense of being a fulfillment of the word of the prophets, culminating in John the Baptist, related to the whole idea of the Word of God in which God brings existence out of nothing, ex nihilo, the Word is spoken, things are created.
It also can be in the sense in which God casts upon Mary a word which demonstrates the way the world is created. The Qur’an says, “Whatever Allah
speaks, it is.” That is “ex nihilo,” out of nothing he speaks. In the same way, God could speak Jesus into existence. So here you have the word of the prophet and the word of God, as it were, speaking Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophetic word, Jesus the very word of Allah that is spoken into the womb of Mary, which of course is a Johannian idea, the logos.
The parallel with the logos and at least this one reference to the way the word is a fulfillment of a creational act in Mary, where God casts upon Mary the very presence of Jesus, whom they believe was born similarly in a virgin birth, is actually a connection which is very significant with John 1:1 and 1 John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13. This has been a point of entry for some people in discussing Christ with Muslims.
The last important title of Jesus is this whole concept of a spirit. Jesus is linked with the word “spirit” seven times in the Qur’an. Jesus is said to have been filled with the spirit, born through Mary by the spirit. Jesus himself in Surah 4:159 is called a “spirit from God” though some translate this “mercy from God.” Parrender for example, argues in his writing to this point. He says, “This is clearly the Arabic equivalent of Ruachand should be translated ‘spirit.’” He thinks it is a real Islamic pejorative thing to change it from “spirit” to “mercy.” He says there is no real basis for calling this “mercy.”
III. Features of Jesus’ Life in the Qur’an (part 1)
A. Relationship of Jesus to Mary
The first point I want to make in this next section on the features of Jesus’ life in the Qur’an is that you cannot help but appreciate the Qur’an’s emphasis on the relation of Jesus to Mary in a way that certainly transcends what you find in the New Testament. Did you know that Mary is the only woman in the entire Qur’an that is referred to by her proper name? That says something about the emphasis on Mary that comes out through the Qur’an. Thirty-four times we find Mary referred to in the Qur’an. The New Testament only has 19 references to Mary, the Qur’an 34.
Mary of course miraculously gives birth to Jesus. If you take Surah 19 ayah 19: “How shall I bear a child when I’m a virgin, untouched by a man?” it sounds a lot like the New Testament. Yet we are told that Jesus is born by divine decree, this whole ex nihilo in her womb in Surah 2 ayah 110.
The Qur’an is strongly opposed to the idea of God being in any way begotten or having been born. Therefore, the idea of the birth of Jesus through Mary is not a support for the deity of Christ from the Muslim point of view; this is a compromise of deity. He is historic as a pure prophet. It shows how exalted he is as a prophet or a word from Allah, but it does not in any way mean that we should equate Allah with Jesus. Whereas in John’s Gospel, the Word of God, the Logos, is equated with God. “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In verse 14, “The Word became flesh,” Logos became Sarx. That is the theological connection between the deity and incarnation which the Muslims will not make. But all of the language and the
components are in the Qur’an. That is the amazing thing about it. The individual doctrines are all taught, but they do not put them together theologically in the same way that we do.
B. Birth of Jesus
The birth of Jesus appears in the Qur’an of course, it is a strange reference. It talks about withdrawal to a place far away in Surah 19. It is interpreted in Islamic commentaries often as “The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem.” You have other bizarre aspects of the birth of Jesus that, as I mentioned before are drawn, not from the New Testament, but drawn from the pseudepigraphal works, the Arabic gospel of the infant Jesus. At this point, this is called “The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus.” This is derived largely from Christian pseudepigraphal material from the Christian stories where Jesus takes clay and makes a bird, this comes into the Qur’an. In the case of this particular writing, Jesus is speaking from the cradle, he speaks immediately after his birth, etc.
These references in the Qur’an, 3:41, 5:109 and 19:30 are all expansions of material in the Biblical account. Again, this is very important because this tells you that Muhammed portrays Christianity as a very mixed bag. He is not being exposed to what we would call “Biblical Christianity.” He has been exposed to pseudepigraphal Christianity. He has been exposed to a view of Mary which is not Biblical. He has been exposed to Nestorianism, Monophysitism, which we discussed earlier in the course, heretical Christology. There is a whole range of stuff that is being brought out in Muhammed’s concept of Christianity. No wonder he rejected it. We reject it, too. What he rejects, we reject.
Remember, we said that Muslims are always amazed when you say to them, “What is Christianity?” They start telling you and you say, “That is horrible. I don’t believe that either. No wonder you people reject Christianity. I would too. But that is not what we believe.” Because there is this huge mixed bag here.
Surah 19:36 and following Allah forbad that he, himself, should beget a son. What he decrees or when he only says, “be” it is. Yet the sects are divided concerning Jesus. That to me says it all, it is right in the Qur’an. The sects are divided concerning Jesus, Muhammed himself is admitting. We have all these people who agree among themselves, their stories are the same. The Bahira, this monk is saying this. If you live in Abyssinia, talk Abyssinian, talk as a Nestorian, they seem to agree. So that is why they said Islam is a truer revelation because we cannot assume that Muhammed is rejecting the New Testament in favor of the Qur’an. That is not what is happening. He is rejecting a whole spectrum of information out there, oral mainly. Oral literature is being repeated in Arabic in placement with the Qur’an. That is a very different kind of historical event.
C. Works of Jesus
The works of Jesus likewise are skewed. In some ways, in a general way the Qur’an very beautifully claims, as we would agree, that Jesus was a worker of mighty works. Five times it says this in the Qur’an. He was a giver of signs. He manifested evidences to men in the Surahs. You even have in Surah 5 what many interpret as being either the Lord’s Supper or feeding of the five thousand. Surah 43:53, “When Jesus worked his miracles, he said….” So in many ways there is not a denial that Jesus performed miracles. That means at this point the Muslims are more receptive than a liberal Protestant to the Gospel. Surah 3:50, “By Allah’s leave, I shall give sight to the blind man, heal the leper and raise the dead to life.” That is a kind of progressive display of the New Testament. In that sense we have some nice evidence that is helpful.
On the other hand, material found from pseudepigraphal works are brought into this as well as Christian works, especially the Gospel of Thomas. The reason it is called pseudepigraphal, in case you don’t know, is because it means that it is a book that was considered non-canonical, but carried a name or an author that was considered to be in the canon, like Thomas. The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Barnabas, Gospel of various people that can be identified as in the Old Testament with Moses and Aaron, Book of Enoch. All of these writings are taken from canonical material and attached to writings that are otherwise spurious.
Different sects apparently would identify a tradition, maybe an oral tradition that has been developed and expanded and they attach it to an apostle or someone to give it more authority. So these are rejected as pseudepigraphal. But Muhammed is drawing from all of these alike. It is the Gospel of Thomas that talks about the birds from clay, and this is something that appears in the Qur’an.
D. Words of Jesus
The words of Jesus are not repeated in the Qur’an as a whole. The Qur’an amazingly does not reproduce a lot of the actual teachings of Christ. It repeatedly affirms that, yes, Jesus came and he gave instruction and teaching. Surah 3:43 and following says he came to confirm the Torah, etc. But Jesus is not allowed to actually speak what we would call “the teachings of the New Testament and the Gospels” in the Qur’an. In fact, quite the opposite, novel teachings are actually placed in the mouth of Jesus.
The most important is this passage in Surah 61:6. This is a passage you have to be aware of because it is a very dangerous passage for Christians, where Jesus is predicting that a prophet will come after him. This is kind of a complex thing, but this is a point of dispute among Muslims, in what way does Islamic revelation fulfill Christianity? They are arguing that Christianity is to Judaism as Islam is to Christianity. Just as we say Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism in the Old Covenant, they see the Qur’an and the prophet Muhammed as the fulfillment of the true Gospel.
When Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “Behold, I send you another Who will lead you into all truth,” the word there for “another” and then the “Parakletos” which is the “one called alongside to help,” these are words that they believe have been twisted and distorted from the original. They believe, for example, that this is not actually “Parakletos,” it is paracleutos, which they believe relates back to a title of Muhammed “the praised one.” In their commentaries they will say that Jesus was predicting, not the coming of the Holy Spirit, he was predicting the coming of Muhammed. In that text in Surah 51:6, “Jesus said to the Israelites, ‘I am sent forth to you by Allah to confirm the Torah already revealed.’” We see this over and over in the Qur’an: “I’m here to confirm the Old Testament.” “…and to give news of an apostle that will come after me, whose name is Achmed,” which is a title for Muhammed, he is “the praised one.”
They believe that this is what is referred to in John’s Gospel. There is, in fact, a version of, not the Hebrew but the Aramaic that has a textual variant which they have used and exploited in order to make this point. A very late thing, but nevertheless it is something that they have tried to exploit.
Let me quote from a Muslim commentary. You can hear it from their own lips: “Among the things that are preached about what Jesus and Mary stated in the Gospels is expressed by what John the apostle set down for them. When the comforter is come, whom God will send to you from the Lord’s presence, to spread the truth, is gone forth from the Lord’s presence, he shall bear witness to me and you also because you have been with me from the beginning. I have spoken to you about this, that you should not be in doubt.” The title used here in Arabic is clearly a reference to Muhammed, which has been corrupted. He says that again, this passage in the Palestinian lectionary in Aramaic was a confusion of parakletos, paracleutos from John 16:7. So that is used as a way of launching against the Christians, that in fact, the words of Jesus were actually in their original form predicting Muhammed rather than the Holy Spirit.
This is serious stuff. You have to be prepared. There is no way that we are going to accept the authority of an Aramaic lectionary that has universally dismissed textual varying in it, against a whole weight of the Gospel of John attestation. But, this is very typical of Muslim scholarship. They will choose a particular, bizarre reference and they will publish that as if this is a stated fact. Therefore, they have uncovered some huge plot or whatever; and therefore, we have to be very, very careful about this.
Death of Christ
One more, the death of Christ. Here in the Qur’an there are a number of major differences between what happened on that day, and the New Testament account. On one hand, Jesus says in the Qur’an: “Peace is upon me the day of my birth and the day of my death, and the day of my being raised to life.” Which is often interpreted as being, birth, death, general resurrection. Some Muslims interpret his “death” to refer to his death after his second coming, because they believe that Christ was actually caught up into heaven and did not experience earthly death. So that becomes a problem.
This passage which is found in Surah 4:156, I think Muslims simply cannot get around that this cannot refer to it as they say. They declared, “We have put to death Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the apostle of Allah.” This is from the Qur’an. “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did. Those that 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. Allah lifted him up to his presence.” This is the idea of ascension. “He is mighty and wise.”
This is the origin among the Muslims of the idea of the imposter theory; that someone who looked like Jesus was crucified. The historical possibility of the
imposter theory is so bizarre and so way out, it is unbelievable; that some poor fellow who happened to look like Jesus was nailed to a cross; or in some versions of it, they nailed him to a cross – the old swoon theory – but Jesus managed to revive himself and come out as if he was resurrected. These kinds of theories are bizarre; and yet the Qur’an teaches this as a matter of fact.
These are difficult things. Surah 3:54 clearly says: “He said, ‘Jesus, I’m about to cause you to die and lift you up to me.’” Again, this is a text that seems to indicate that Jesus dies. Why in the world do they have this idea that Jesus could not possibly die? Because the Qur’an teaches that. Unbelievably, there are those who declare Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary. “Who could prevent Allah from destroying the Messiah, the son of Mary. Together with his mother, Allah will heal the earth. His is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and all that lies between them. He creates what he will and has power over all things.” That is Surah 5 ayah 17.
There has been a huge debate over this text. What does it mean to say, “Allah can destroy, or did destroy Jesus, son of Mary.” Does it mean that Messiah is not Allah? Does it mean that Allah was prevented from destroying Messiah? Does it mean that Allah has the power to destroy everything, but he chose not to, but he could if he wiled? A very, very difficult thing. The Muslims are going to argue that this is the Christian syllogism. They are saying God cannot die. That is a positively true statement. Jesus died. Therefore, Jesus cannot be God. There are many ways to say this. his is essentially the syllogistic way this has developed in Muslim thinking. If you argue that Jesus died on the cross and yet our theology affirms that God cannot die, is immutable and is eternal and therefore cannot die, therefore, ipso facto, that is it, you cannot claim that Jesus is divine. This raises a very important theological point. We will come back to this statement next time and we are going to talk about this. What does it mean for Christians to say that Jesus died? In what way are we arguing, Did God die? What is the relation of the deity and the humanity of Christ, the death of Christ? What does this do with our doctrine of theanthropic; the nature of the union of Christ, the comunicato de atum, the communication and nature of Christ, etc.
We are going to have to delve into that a little bit because that is essential to respond properly to the Muslim at this point. We will come back to that. You can see that all along the way we have a number of issues that need to be addressed in our apologetics in order to properly respond to Muslims’ misunderstanding about Christ.