Jesus, the Trinity and the Qur’an

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Far be it from Allah that He Should Have a Son

    Islam is a strictly monotheistic, indeed Unitarian monotheistic, religion. By this we mean that Islam teaches that there is one God who is one Person. The God of Islam is called Allah. The sacred book of Islam is called the Qur’an, which is purported to be a revelation of Allah through Gabriel to a prophet named Mohammed (c. 570-632 AD). The Qur'an is divided into the equivalent of 114 "chapters" (Surah) and within each Surah there are many "verses" (ayat). Thus to write Surah 5:73 is chapter (Surah) five, verse (ayat) seventy three of the Qur’an. If we are at least aware of this it will help us orientate ourselves in the Qur’an. The English version of the Qur’an we use here is the popular Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation (1934).

 

    Christians are interested in the Qur’an because we desire to see what the book of Islam says about Jesus. Does the Qur’an, supposedly revealed by Gabriel to Mohammed, teach truth about Jesus, or even represent accurately what Christians believe about Jesus? That is the issue in this article.

    First, we should notice that the Qur’an teaches that it is impossible, unthinkable, even monstrous to suggest that Allah could have begotten a son. “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only, Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him” (Surah 112:1-4); “They say, ‘(Allah) Most Gracious has begotten a son!’ Indeed ye have put forth a thing most monstrous! ... It is not consonant with the majesty of (Allah) Most Gracious that He should beget a son” (Surah 19:88-89, 92).

The Straw Man of the Qur’an

    But what did Mohammed understand (and what does the Qur’an teach) about the concept of “Son of God”? In other words, what is the Qur’an rejecting when it rejects the idea that Allah could have (or beget) a son? Sadly, we see in the Qur’an a classic example of “straw manning,” To build a “straw man” is, either deliberately or unconsciously (usually the former), to create a caricature of the opponent’s position and then to attack that instead of the opponent’s real position. Honest debate requires a correct representation of the opponent’s position. As any Christian who reads the Qur’an will be able to recognise, Mohammed, who wrote the Qur’an, misrepresents the doctrine of Christians, both with respect to Jesus being the Son of God and with respect to the Trinity. Clearly, either Mohammed did not understand the Christian doctrines which he was critiquing (the most likely explanation) or Mohammed deliberately misrepresented Christianity. In either case, the claim of the Qur'an to be in the inspired Word of Allah is proven false. If the being who revealed the Qur’an either did not know or deliberately misrepresented Christian teachings, that being cannot be God.

    Consider the straw man in the Qur’an. “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: how can He have a son when He hath no consort? He created all things, and hath full knowledge of all things” (Surah 6:101); “Exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He hath taken neither a wife nor a son” (Surah 72:3).  A consort is the spouse of a king or queen. Clearly, the writer of the Qur’an understands begetting a son to require a husband and a wife; and, since Allah had not taken to himself a female consort (wife) he could not have begotten a son.

    The Muslim might be surprised to read this, but we agree. God does not have a consort, and He did not need one or take one to beget a son. No Christian has ever taught that Jesus is the Son of God in that sense. When Christians say that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, we do not mean that. No Christian had ever taught, for example, that Mary is the consort (wife) of Allah (or even of God the Father).

    Remember that Mohammed supposedly received revelations from Gabriel from c. 610 to 630 AD. Christianity’s struggles to define the relationships within the Godhead and to explain the Person and natures of Jesus Christ were over by that time. Between 325-381 AD the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople defined that Jesus is the Son of God in this sense: “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made ...”  In 451 AD the Council of Chalcedon defined the orthodox Christian position on the Person and natures of Christ in these words: “begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood ...”  Over one hundred and fifty years before Mohammed started receiving visions the Christian church had defined exactly what Christians mean by the Trinity and  the Son of God and the Incarnation. How could Mohammed have been unaware of these things, if he is (as Islam claims) the prophet of God, and if the Qur’an is (as Islam claims) the inspired Word of the all knowing, all seeing Allah? For Mohammed to disagree with Christian orthodoxy is one thing; for him to be ignorant of or deliberately to misrepresent it is quite another.

Jesus: the Only Begotten, Eternal, Uncreated Son

    Christians believe three things about the Sonship of Jesus.

    First, Jesus is the eternal Son of God. This means that the Son of God always was. There was no time (if we could even speak of time before the creation of time itself) when the Son was not or did not exist. Psalm 90:2 teaches: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” The same expression “from everlasting” is used in Micah 5:2 with respect to the Son: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting.” Jesus says about Himself, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” (Rev. 1:11). Other passages could be cited. The point the Bible makes is that Jesus not only pre-existed the creation, but He is eternal. Moreover, He is eternally the Son. He did not become a Son. He always was the Son. And the Father was always the Father. Never was the Father without the Son in the Holy Spirit; and never was the Son without the Father in the Holy Spirit. This is not easy to understand because in our experience sons are younger than their fathers and come after them. Remember what the Creeds of the early church say: “begotten of the Father before all worlds” (Nicene Creed).

    Second, Jesus is the uncreated Son of God. This means that God did not say: “Let the Son come into being,” and the Son came into being. It was by such a word that God brought the creatures into existence: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). A creature is something in distinction from God who is Creator. A creature exists in dependence upon God. A creature exists because God willed it to exist and spoke it into existence. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).  Islam teaches that Allah is the Creator of the heavens and earth. The Bible teaches that the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is the Creator. There are not three Creators working independently of one another. The three Persons together created the universe. About the Son we read in Hebrews 1:2-3 that “by [Him] also [God] made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person ...”  The Son of God is not a creature but He is the Originator of the creation: “without Him [Jesus] was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). However, according to the Qur’an Jesus is a creature.  He only began to exist when Allah created Him in the womb of Mary. “Behold, the angels said, ‘O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah ..’. She said: O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?’ He said: ‘Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: when He hath decree a Plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be’ and it is!’” (Surah 3:45, 47); “The similitude of Jesus before Allah is that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, ‘Be’: and he was” (Surah 3:59).

    Third, Jesus is the only begotten or natural son of God. That Jesus is the only begotten Son of God describes the relationship which the Son has to the Father within the being of God. The being of God is one but within the one being of God are three distinct persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is the doctrine of the Trinity, which in no way (as we shall see) is fairly or accurately portrayed by the Qur’an. Let me illustrate. A person might be a son in different senses. A person might be his father’s son biologically. A DNA test would verify that one is the biological son of another. A person might be his father’s son legally because of adoption. By such an act a man could bestow the rights and privileges of a son upon a person who is not related biologically to him. The Bible uses the word begotten (only begotten) to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son. But we must be carefully not to think carnally about this. The Father is not a physical being, but spiritual (John 4:24). Therefore, the Father does not beget a physical Son. To beget is the activity of a father in which he brings forth one who is of the same essence or of the same being as himself but who is personally distinct from himself. A father is not the same person as his son, but neither is the son of a different being than his father. A human father does not beget a horse, for example! The Father, whose being is divine, begets the Son, whose being is equally divine (the orthodox Christians used the word homoousion  or “of the same essence” to describe this) but the Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father, nor are the Father and the Son (with the Holy Spirit) two or three gods. Three Persons are not the same as three gods. Christians believe in the Trinity because the Bible teaches that there is one God, and that there are three distinct persons who are called God. The word Trinity was coined to explain this truth. Therefore, to summarise: the Father is not begotten; the Son is begotten, not created; and the Spirit (the third Person of the Trinity) is neither made nor begotten, but proceeds or is breathed forth by the Father and the Son. This language is profound, but the Qur’an cannot simply dismiss this theological language (derived from the New Testament and defined some two centuries before the Qur’an was witten) and claim that Christianity teaches that Jesus is the product of a relationship between God and a consort! 

The Trinity and the Qur’an

    Since the Trinity was officially defined in AD 325, over two centuries before the Qur’an began to be “revealed,” we would expect it to interact with the true doctrine of the Trinity. Instead, the Qur’an evidences more straw manning. The Qur’an recounts a conversation that Allah will have on the Day of Judgment with Jesus: “And behold, Allah will say: ‘O Jesus, the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, ‘Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?’ He will say: ‘Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldest indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For thou knowest in full all that is hidden’” (Surah 5:116). “O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not Three: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One God: glory be to Him: (far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs” (Surah 4:171). “They do blaspheme who say: ‘God is Christ the son of Mary.’ But said Christ: ‘O children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ Whoever joins other gods with Allah, Allah will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help. They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily, a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them” (Surah 5:72-73).

    No Christian could recognise even a fair representation of Christianity in these words of the Qur’an. First, the Trinity is not Allah, Jesus and Mary. Not even Roman Catholics who sinfully and idolatrously venerate Mary teach that. The Trinity is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Nowhere does the Qur’an mention the Spirit as the third Person in the Trinity (the Three). Second, no Christian has ever said that we worship Mary and Jesus as gods. Jesus is not a god. Jesus is a divine Person. The Qur’an claims that Christians worship three gods. Even if the Qur’an taught that Christian worship three gods and these three gods were Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that would still not be a correct representation of the Trinity doctrine. We do not worship Jesus “in derogation of Allah,” nor do we “join gods” to Allah. Jesus said: “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son, that all men should honour the Son, even as thy honour the Father: He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him” (John 5:22-23). The Jesus of the Qur’an does not know what is in the heart of Allah, but the Jesus of the Christian Scriptures says, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him" (Matt. 11:27). Moreover, the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God: “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1Cor. 2:10-11). Third, we do not teach that Allah is Christ. That would be to teach that Allah and Christ were the same person, the heresy of modalism. We teach that the Son and the Father are distinct persons but with the Holy Spirit are one, true and eternal God.

    Again, it is clear that Mohammed did not understand the doctrine of the Trinity, but how can the Qur’an claim to be the Word of God if its author did not understand a theological controversy which had been resolved in the Christian church two centuries before the Qur’an was written?

Jesus and the Qur’an

    The Jesus presented in the New Testament is the Son of God incarnate. His birth, His childhood (briefly), His baptism and temptations, his public ministry (including His teachings and miracles with His conversations and encounters with many individuals), His betrayal, arrest, trial, sufferings and death, and His resurrection and ascension are all recorded in some detail. The Qur’an began to be compiled some six hundred years after the events of Jesus’ life took place. It presents a Jesus who is only a servant of Allah, and not even Allah’s greatest servant. In fact, the Qur’an says little about Jesus. If we relied on the Qur’an and did not have the New Testament we would know almost nothing about Jesus, and almost everything would be false.

    In the Qur’an Jesus is only a servant of Allah and His life and ministry are hardly mentioned. The Qur’an makes mention of some of Jesus’ miracles: For example, Jesus says in the Qur’an, “I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave: and I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe” (Surah 3:49). Of course, only some of those miracles are in the Bible. The miracle of making a bird, for example, is fabricated, possibly derived from the Gnostic "Gospel of Thomas," or some other spurious work.. Jesus' first miracle was changing water into wine (John 2:11). He performed no miracles in His childhood. In the Qur’an Mary gives birth to Jesus in an undisclosed location under a palm tree, not in Bethlehem in a stable. Neither Joseph, nor the shepherds nor the Magi from the east are mentioned. When Mary returns with the child the townsfolk accuse her of acting unchastely. She points to baby Jesus in the cradle who speaks from His cradle in defence of His mother: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet ... So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)” (see Surah 19:23-34).

    What the Qur’an says about Jesus is actually very scant. As one man said, “The Jesus of the Qur’an is not a person, but an argument [for Islam].”  When Jesus speaks in the Qur’an it is to tell us to follow Allah, but He does not reveal the love and mercy of God as Jesus does in the Bible. “We gave Jesus the son of Mary clear (signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit” (Surah 2:87). “Then will Allah say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold, I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold I taught thee the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel” (Surah 5:110a); “We followed them up with (others of) Our Messengers: We sent after them Jesus, the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel; and We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him Compassion and Mercy” (Surah 57:27). Most serious of all is the Qur’an’s denial that Jesus was crucified: “That they [the people of the Book] said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah,’ but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. Nay, Allah raised him up to Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise” (Surah 4:157-158). Some Muslims teach that there was a switch made so that another was crucified instead of Christ. Some have said the other person was Judas Iscariot or Simon of Cyrene. Many other Muslims do not know what Surah 4:157 means but on the basis of it they reject the Gospel of the cross. 

    The Jesus presented in the Qur’an is not the Saviour or Redeemer, not the Lord, not the Son of God. Although Allah gave Jesus the Gospel (Surah 5:110; 57:27) the Jesus of the Qur’an brings no good news to sinners lost in sin.

The Incarnation and the Qur’an

Since the Qur’an denies that Jesus is the Son of God, it also denies that Jesus is God Incarnate, that is, the Qur’an denies that the Eternal Son of God was made flesh, lived and died as a real man with a real human nature (while remaining God). But, again, it is clear that Mohammed did not understand the concept of Incarnation any more than he understood the doctrine of the Trinity on which a proper understanding of the Incarnation depends. “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 5:75). You see the argument? God does not eat food. Jesus ate food. Therefore, Jesus is not God. Such an argument, however, shows fundamental ignorance about what the Incarnation is.

    First, in the Incarnation, the Son was made flesh. Neither the Father nor the Spirit were made flesh. It therefore is not the case, that while Jesus was on earth, God was “missing from heaven,”  as some Muslims have argued against Christianity. Indeed, the Son of God (as God) is omnipresent. The divine nature is not limited.  In the Incarnation, moreover, the Son did not cease to be God. The Son of God became man (that is, He took to Himself the human nature) while remaining God.

    Second, the Person Jesus Christ has two natures after the Incarnation. He has human flesh (subject to suffering and death) and He has a human soul (with a human psychology [soul, mind, emotions, will]). Therefore, it is not correct to say that God became hungry and ate food; or that God became weary and had to rest; or that God sweated or that God bled; or that God died. That is not how Christians understood Jesus Christ, and the Christian church defined the relationship between the human and divine in Jesus Christ in 451 AD, some one hundred and fifty years before Mohammed allegedly started receiving visions. The Christian position is that one who is both God and man in one Person in two distinct natures hungered, thirsted, sweated, bled, died, etc. 

Third, the Incarnation was a free, voluntary act by the Son, an act determined by the Triune God for the salvation of men and women. The Son became a man and even suffered and died as a man so that He could save His people from their sins. It might seem dishonourable that one of God’s servants should suffer so terribly, but this was the only way of salvation. And Jesus is not a mere servant or prophet. His death, exactly because He is the Son of God in human flesh, is of infinite value to redeem sinners from sin. God laid on Jesus the sins of His people and He suffered in their place.

    The tragedy of Islam is that it is a religion without salvation. It posits a holy God, but no way of salvation except by the will of Allah. And the will of Allah is such that no Muslim can know before the Day of Judgment whether he has been faithful enough to merit heaven or whether he will go into hellfire. And Allah has no basis on which to be merciful to sinners, for Allah makes no satisfaction for sin, thus denies divine justice. The Christian believes that Jesus died on the cross as a willing Substitute and that all who believe in Jesus will be saved from all their sins. God is satisfied; His justice is vindicated; and God shows Himself merciful to those who believe. 

And the Muslim who repents and believes in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, shall be saved. In so doing, he will reject the caricature of Jesus found in the Qur'an, and will embrace the truth of the Gospel. In that way, he will find forgiveness of sins, peace for his soul and the assurance of eternal life. 

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Click here to read Part 2 of the series of blogposts on Islam. Part 2 is "The Qur'an and the Cross." And click here to read Part 3 on "The Qur'an, the Atonement and Salvation."