JESUS IN THE QUR’AN: JESUS IN THE MIDST OF THE MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
#1 Text; “There is no other name whereby men are being saved” Acts 4.12
Historically, Islam is derived from the loins of Abraham. Judaism, Islam and Christianity have this fact in common. There are one billion Muslims in the world of the 1990’s. Though Islam is the fastest growing religion in the USA, the religion of the Qur’an has been a dominant force in Asia and Africa for hundreds of years. Since we live in a ‘Global Village,’ it is no longer possible to speak to a limited audience; the whole world is listening (see my paper, “Roots of Crisis: Middle East in Turmoil (August 2, 1990-January 16/17, 1991 - Ground Zero”). We must write and speak so that honest and intelligent Muslims will recognize what is said is an accurate statement of their belief and behavior system.
In this brief study, I have refrained from using the expressions, “God says and Muhammad says” when referring to the Qur’an, and I have simply said, “the Qur’an says” (W. M. Watt, Muhammad at Mecca, 1953, p. x; the question of textual criticism is a peculiarly delicate for Muslims because of their view of ‘inspiration’ and ‘Word of God’).
A second factor must be born in mind - the texts that speak about Jesus are particularly important for Christians and Muslims (cf. G. Parrinder’s Jesus in The Qur’an - contains all references to Jesus found in the Qur’an). Hendrik Kraemer’s plea, in which he says, “the dialogue with the non-Christian religions should not only be the concern of a few so-called experts, who are as Christian professional students of one or more of these religions. The period in which that could be the case has definitely passed. This challenge demands a reorientation of the education of the ministry, a theology of religion and religions, which is more and something else than textbook or capsule knowledge of non-Christian religions.” (Hendrik Kraemer, World Cultures and World Religions, 1960, p. 365; Hans Kung (editor), Christianity and World Religions; S. Neils, Christian Faith and Non-Christian Religions; and both of L. Newbingen’s works, Foolishness To The Greeks; and The Gospel in A Pluralistic Culture.
(All mentions of Jesus given below - Greek - lesous; Hebrew - Yeshua; Arab - ‘Isa)
The name ‘Isa occurs 25 times in the Qur’an and the use of other titles in conjunction with this or separately, such as Messiah and Son of Mary, means that Jesus is spoken of some 35 times (cf. Encyclopedia of Islam, 1913, article, ‘”Isa”; see my papers, “God: Creator, Preserver and Redeemer”; “Christ: Incarnational Paradigm”; and “The Spirit of God” - all in the LCC/LCS Library).
1. Five of the suras (a literary unit) (6,19,23,42,13 (also 21) which name Jesus are placed at Mecca (610-622 AD).
M. Eliada, editor, Encyclopedia of World Religions (Chicago, 1987); A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted. Eliade and Kitagawa, The History of Religions, 1959; A. Jeffery, A Reader On Islam, 1962; J. Robson, Christ In Islam, 1929; Ishaq Husaein, Christ in The Qur’an and In Modern Arabic Literature (Tokyo, 1960); M. Hayek, Le Christ d_e 1’Islam, 1959; H. Michaud, Jesus selon le Goran, 1960; and the Journal, The Muslim World.
2. Of the latter, sura 19 is crucial because it contains one of the two accounts oi Jesus’ birth (the birth is repeated in suras 3 and 29, maybe for the Mecca and Medina audiences; also see R. E. Brown’s Birth Account (NY: Doubleday Publishers)
3. Josephus’ list of ca. 20 Jesuses.
4. The name Jesus is a personal name (Matt 1.21).
5. The names for Jesus in the Epistles are Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, The Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses Jesus alone 18 times; in Hebrews, Jesus is used 9 times and in Acts, Jesus is used more than any other name.
The following are passages in the Qur’an which use the term ‘Jesus’.
2.81/87: ‘We gave Jesus, son of Mary, the Evidences and aided him by the Holy Spirit.’
2.130/136: ‘What has been given to Moses and Jesus and the prophets.’
2.251/253: ‘We gave Jesus, son of Mary, the Evidences and supported him by the Holy Spirit.’
3.40-45: ‘God giveth thee tidings of a word from himself whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary.’
3.15/52: “Jesus perceived unbelief on their part.’ 3.8/55: ‘God said: “Jesus, I am going to bring thy term to an end and raise thee to myself”.’
3.52/59: ‘Jesus in God’s eyes is in the same position as Adam.’ 3.78/81: ‘What was given to Moses and Jesus and the prophets.’
1.156/157: ‘For their saying: “We killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of God”.’
1.161/163: ‘We made suggestions to. . .the Patriarchs, to Jesus, etc.
1.169/171: ‘The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only the messenger of God, and his word which he cast, upon Mary, and a spirit from him.’ 1.170/172: ‘The Messiah will not disdain to be a servant of God.’
5.19/17: ‘They have disbelieved who say that God is the Messiah, the son of Mary.. .if he wisheth to destroy the Messiah, son of Mary, and his mother.’
5.50/16: ‘In their footsteps we caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow.’
5.76/72: ‘They have disbelieved who say: “God is the Messiah, son of Mary”.’
5.79/75: ‘The Messiah, son of Mary, is nothing but a messenger.’
5.82/78: ‘Those. . .who have disbelieved were cursed by the tongue of David and Jesus, son of Mary.’
5.109-110: ‘O Jesus, son of Mary, remember my goodness to thee.’
5.112: ‘The apostles said: “O Jesus, son of Mary, is thy Lord able to send down to us a table from heaven?”
5.111: ‘Jesus, son of Mary, said: “O God our Lord”.’
5.116: ‘God said: “O Jesus, son of Mary, was it thou who didst say to the people,”’ etc.
6.85: ‘Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elijah.’
9.30: ‘Christians say that the Messiah is the son of God.’
9.31: ‘Monks as Lords apart from God, as well as the Messiah, son of Mary.’
19.35.31: ‘That is Jesus, son of Mary, a statement of the truth.’
21.91: ‘We. . .made her and her son a sign to the worlds.’
23.51/50: ‘We appointed the Son of Mary and his mother to be a sign.’
33.7: ‘Noah, and Abraham, and Moses and Jesus, son of Mary.’
42.11/13: ‘What we laid as a charge upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus.’
43.57: ‘When the Son of Mary is used as a parable.’
57.27: ‘In their footsteps we caused our messengers to follow, and we caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow, and we gave him the Gospel.’
61.6: ‘Jesus, son of Mary, said: “O children of Israel, I am God’s messenger to you”.’
61.14: ‘Jesus, son of Mary, said to the apostles” “Who are my helpers towards God?” This list does not reveal the passing allusions and longer narratives in which Jesus is the central figure.
1. This metronymic occurs 23 times in the Qur’an, 16 times as Jesus, son of Mary and 2 times
as Son of Mary. This is surprising, since Son of Mary occurs only once in the Bible.
2. Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary (3.40,45).
3. Son of Mary and his mother as appointed as signs - 2.81/87; 2.253/254; 23.52/53;
4. Son of Mary used as parable against polytheists, for he came with wisdom -43.57-63.
(Arabic instances and Abyssinian, Ethiopia sources of early Christological controversies; see especially The Arabic and Syriac Gospels of The Infancy. M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, 1924; B. Altaner, Patrology, E.T., 1960; J. Doresse, The Secret Books £f The Egyptian Gnostics, E.T., 1960; R. M. Grant and D. N. Freedraan, The Secret Sayings of Jesus, 1960; F. F. Bruce, Jesus Outside The New Testament; A. Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’an, pp. 12-20.
While the title Son of Mary occurs only once in the Bible, and appears in Syriac and Arabic apocrypha, it was popularized by Islam through the Qur’an. (See E.A.U. Budge, The History of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Syriac, 1899; pp. 76ff; also J. Robson, Christ in Islam, 1919, pp. 35ff; A. Jeffery, A Reader in Islam, 1962, pp. 574ff.
III. Names of Jesus: The Messiah (Al-Masih)
1. Jesus receives the title 11 times in the Qur’an, all in the Medianian suras - 3.40/45; 4.156/157; 4.169/171; 4.170/172; 5.19/17 twice; 5.76/72 twice; 5.79/75; 9.30/31. In the Qur’an the title Messiah receives a particular non-biblical sense. The Messiah is only the messenger of God (4.169/171; 5.75/79). On the negative side this is a defense of the unity and transcendence of God. On the positive side it places the Messiah in the succession of Messengers and Prophets of the past, in fact as succeeding to Old Testament prophecy.
2. Prophet (nabi) Jesus is once called Prophet alone in the Qur’an, 19-31/30, but he is often named in company with other prophets and figures, most of whom are mentioned in the Bible (Jeffery’s Foreign Vocabulary £f the Qur’an, p. 276).
As in the Bible, the prophet in the Qur’an appears as a messenger of a particular kind, chosen for a special purpose with a message from God. (It is beyond our limited purpose to list all the prophets mentioned in the Qur’an, especially those listed along with Jesus).
a. Moses - 2.130/136; 3.78/84
b. Noah - 4.161/163
c. Torah - 5.48/50; 44/46
d. Lists 18 Hebrew prophets, including Jesus - 6.84ff
e. Bestowed on me the Book - 19.30/31
g. Abraham, etc. 57.26 (see Y. Moubarac, “Abraham dans le coran”, 1958, p.168; M. Hayek, Le Christ de 1’ Islam, p. 19).
h. 28 prophets are named in the Qur’an. Jesus and Abraham alone appear in all the lists of prophets in the Qur’an.
3. Messenger (resul) The title Messenger or Apostle (rasul) is used 10 times of Jesus in the Qur’an - 2.81/87, 2.253/254, 3.43/49, 3.46/53, 4.156/157, 4.169/171, 5.75/79, 5.111, 57.27, 61.6 (See G. Widengren, Muhammad the Apostle, 1955, p. 77.)
a. Every community has a messenger is stated several times in the Qur’an 10.47/48; 13-7/8; 22.34/35; 23.44/46). “ b. Importance of the message of Jesus, the Gospel, is recognized in the Qur’an. While in the NT the word translated ‘Gospel’ always refers to Christ. There is no separation of Jesus as messenger and the gospel his message.
4. Word (kalima) Jesus is spoken of as Word - 3.34/37; 3.40/45; 3.52/59; 4.169/171 (Word from God is not the claim of the NT) 19.34/35; 19.35/36.
a. Greek, Logos - John 1.1; I John 1.1; Rev 19.13; Hebrew, dabar - Psalm 33.6
b. Philo (Logos is divine reason)
c. Philo’s view developes from wisdom concept in the OT, esp. Proverbs 8, Wisdom 7
5. Spirit (Arabic ruh derives from Hebrew ruach) The word spirit occurs in connection with Jesus 7 times - 2.81/87; 2.253/254; 4.169/171; 5.109/110; 19.17; 21.91; 66.12. While the support of the Spirit is said to be given to Jesus, and this claim is repeated 3 times in the Qur’an, yet there are others who are aided by the Spirit.+ All believers are supported by the Spirit -58.22; 16.102/104; 2.91/97; 26.192. Most crucial in locating the disparity between the NT and the Qur’an is the intriguing sura 4.169/171 in which Jesus is spoken of as ‘a spirit from1 God (see esp. M. S. Seale, Muslim Theology, p 111; L_£ Christ de 1’Islam, p. 89; and J. W. Sweetman, Islam and ChristianTheology, I, p. 29.
6. Other Titles of Jesus
a. Sign (aya) - 3.44/50; 19.21; 21.91; 23.50/52
b. Parable (mathal) Hebrew mashal rendered parabole in the Greek New Testament 3.52/59;
c. Witness (shahid) - 4.157/159; 5.117 The witness is one of the beautiful names of God and occurs frequently in the Qur’an, eg. 4.33/37.
d. Mercy (rahma) - 19.21
e. Eminent (wajih) - 3.0/45
f. One brought near (min al-muqarrabin) 3.40/45; 56.11; 7.111/114
g. One of the upright (min al-salihin) - 3.10/46 h. Blessed (mubarak) - 19.31/32; 19.33/34;
IV. Zachariah and John (compare sura 19 and Luke 1.5-25)
These are always mentioned with Jesus in the Qur’an
1. Zachariah (Zakariya) appears 4 times - 3-32/37
2. John the Baptist is called (Tahya) see Foreign Vocabulary of The Qur’an, pp. 290, 151.
3. Fullest account of the promise of John to Zachariah is in the Meccan, sura 19,which is
prefaced by 15 verses on Zachariah and John (19.1-15)
4. The Mandaeans (Gnostics) are mentioned 3 times in The Qur’an - 2.59/62,
5. 73/69; 22.17. The Mandaeans are close to ancient Zorastrian practices and beliefs (see E.
S. Drower, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran, 1937, p. 3f f.).
V. Mary (Maryan) -
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the only woman who is called by her proper name in the Qur’an. Other women are mentioned but not named, eg., the wives of Noah, Lot, Pharaoh - 66.10-12, 3-30/35, 27-22f. Mary and Jesus are a ‘sign to the world’ - 21.91.
a. The Meccan sura 19 tells the story of the annunciation to Mary and the nativity
b. But the later Medinian sura 3 contains some preliminary matter - 3-30/33, 3-31/35, 3-
c. Annunciation - sura 19.16/17/18/19/20/21; 3.37/42, 3-38/43, 3-39/44, 3-40/45, 3.41/46, 3-
The Quranic narratives agree closely with The Gospel of Luke, except 3-41/46 (speaking in the cradle). The Qur’an defends the sexual chastity of Mary. According to the Qur’an, the birth of Jesus would be brought about by the plain, but all-powerful word of God. ‘He simply says ‘Be (kun)!’ and it is’. In contrast, the NT affirms that Jesus is the creator (John 1.1-18). The Qur’an teaches the virgin birth of Jesus - 3-31/36, 23.50/52. The Qur’an denies that God begets, sura 112, 25.2, 53.2, 4.169/171.
VI. Birth of Jesus:
1. Sura 19 - proceeds with account of the nativity of Jesus - 19.22, 9.23, 19.24/25-34
2. Spanish Muslims denied the perpetual virginity of Mary, as does the New Testament - sura 19.34/35/36/37/38 (Jesus selon le Goran, p. 27)
VII. Works of Jesus: (especially sura 5)
That Jesus was a great healer of the sick is confirmed by the Qur’an - sura 5.109/110 (see Christ In The Qur’an and In Modern Arabic Literature, p. 3). Apocryphal miracles - 3.43/49, 5.112/114
VIII. Words of Jesus: (esp. 48.39)
1. Sayings - *he teachings of Jesus are in the Gospel and The Qur’an does not repeat them -
2. Ahraadu - sura 61.6 - prophecy
3. Similarities between Qur’an and the Gospel - 2.24/26, 2.266/264, 3-24/25/26,
4. 141/142, 5.78/82, 7.38/40, 7.42f/44f, 7.178/179, 7.186, 9.80/81, 9.111/112, 16.107/109,
17.13/11, 18.47/49, 23.101/103, 24.61, 29.60, 36.12f/13f, 39.29/30, 46.19/20, 56.8f, 57.12f, 58.7/8.
IX. The Death of Jesus: Cross, Atonement and Forgiveness - What does the Qur’an mean
in its words about the death of Jesus?
The first reference is the Meccan sura 19.33/34 - “Peace is upon me the day of my birth, and the day of my death, and the day of my being raised up alive.” The meaning of this verse entails reference to 19.15. “Peace is upon him the day of his birth, and the day of his death, and the day of his being raised up alive.” Here the resurrection would be the general resurrection at the end of the world.
Because of the difficulty of the reconciling this verse about Jesus with a later one 4.156/157 early Islam soon interpreted his death as to occur after his second coming. There is no futurity in the grammar of the Qur’an (19.33/34) to suggest a post-millennial death (see 3.48/55, 2.240/241, 3.48/55, 4.156/157, 5.117, 6.60, 19.33/34).
The commentators have been troubled over these verses since they came to presuppose the priority of 4.156/157, which they assumed denied the crucifixion.
A crucial reference to the death of Jesus is found in 5.17/19 - “assuredly they have disbelieved who say that God is the Messiah, son of Mary. ... By the Christian belief in the real death of Jesus his true humanity is affirmed. God cannot die and God is not the Messiah, for he could destroy the Messiah if he willed.
Sura - 5.75/79 - “The Messiah, son of Mary, is nothing but a messenger before whose time the messengers have passed away.”
Perhaps the most critical passage which speaks of the death of Jesus is 4.154/157/155/159 - “. . .We killed the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of God.” The context of this passage is the rejection of the messengers of God by the Jews, the first people of the Book. “God himself could kill the Messiah - 5.17/19, but men could not do so against he will for. . . God is ‘the best of plotters’ who overthrows human plots. (sura 4.157/159; 4.156/157. Traditional Muslim interpretation has been that the Jews tried to kill Jesus but were unable to do so.
Two distinct questions emerge: (A) Did Jesus really die on the cross? (B) Was there a substitute who suffered in his place? All four Gospels affirm the first, and do not address the second question. (also compare the denial of the real death of Jesus in The Gospel of Peter and The Apocryphal Acts of_ John. These gnostic texts deny the historical death on the cross. Here we note influence of Doceticisra and Gnosticism. Muslim commentators often substitute thesis from the Egyptian Gnostic Basilides who lived in the si’:?nd century (see works by Freedman and Doresse above).
A late Gospel of Barnabas was supposed to have influenced Muslim interpretation of ‘substitute’ for Jesus- on the cross (see refutation, J. Jamier, “L’Evangile selon Barnabe” in Melanges de_ d’Institut Dominicain de’ Etude Orientales, 1959, pp. 137ff.
Probably the most profound examination of the crucifixion from the perspective of a modern Muslim is that of Dr. Kernel Hussein in City of Wrong (E.T. London 1960, pp. ix, 183). Islam is distinguished from Christianity by its repudiation of the trinitarian concept of the Unity of God, but also by its rejection of the Christian teaching concerning salvation by Christ alone. (see the works of K. Cragg, The Call of The Minaret, 1956, pp. 294ff; and H. A. R. Gibb, Mohammedanism, 1949, p. 69).
The Christian Gospel rests on Christ as the source of salvation, atonement, sacrifice, substitution for our sins. The entire Christian doctrine of soteriology is rejected by both classical and contemporary Islam. There is no mention of a substitution anywhere in the Qur’an. It seems obvious that it cannot be referring to the biblical Christ.
X. Jesus and The Future: Eschatology and Crisis in the Middle East (egs. Sura - 3.18/55, 4.156/157, 19.33/34, 43-61). The Qur’an contains no hints to suggest Jesus as an eschatological figure. In one reading of sura 43.61, ‘Jesus would be a signal of the last hour.’ An empty place beside the tomb of Muhammad in Medina was thought to be reserved for Jesus. Both the Bible and the Qur’an are reserved in what is claimed about the ‘last days.’ Acts 1.7; I Cor 15.28; Islamic Review, September 1961, pp. 11ff.
XI. Son of God: What similarities or dissimilarities are apparent in the Quranic and Biblical usage of the term ‘Son’?
1. Many passages in the Qur’an deny that God has offspring - sura 112 - on the unity of God. This short sura is one of the most popular, recited every day by most Muslims. This Meccan sura was directed against early Arabian polytheism and the assumption that Christians believed in three gods - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see esp. W. M. Watt, Muhammad at Medina, p. 318; also his article ‘Son’ in The Hibbert Journal, 1950, pp. 245ff.).
2. Three clear references (except those contra-semi-trinitarianism/ and Adoptionism) sura 19.35/36, 19.34/35, 10.68/69, 25.2, 19.91/93/94
3. Sura 4.169/171 - “The Messiah. . .is only the messenger of God. . .God is only one God,”
4. What then does the New Testament mean by “Son of God” (Cullman, p. 282ff). ‘ ‘Son’ never means that God sexually generated ‘a son’. Son is a relational term. Humans become ‘sons of God’ by adoption, while Jesus is the eternal Son of God. ‘Son of God’ in Christian context excludes all paternity in the physical sense. The phrase means that Christ is God in self-revelation, an activity which begets a historic personality, wherein what God is in revelatory love, he is also known to be in revelatory action (K. M. Khalid, Together on The Road, Muhammad and Jesus (Cairo, Egypt). To Muslims, belief in a Son of God seemed an offense against the Unity of God (compare with sura 43.81). Christian belief in Jesus, The Son of God, entails the idea of unity of the truine God, ultimately revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, John 1.14-18.
XII. Jesus, Son of God, Trinity and Allah of The Qur’an: “A false god has no existence in the real world. There is no God but one.” I Cor 8.4 - compare w-‘ th ,sura 4.169/171. Does the Qur’an reject both Orthodox and heretical notions of the Trinity?
1. Sura 5.17/19 - . . .they have disbelieved who say God is the Messiah. . .” 5.72/76 - . . .they
have disbelieved who say God is the Messiah. . .” 5.73/77 - . . .they disbelieve who say
God is one of three.
2. Does the New Testament state that Jesus is God? It is often denied that there are any specific declarations of The Deity of Christ in the New Testament, (cf. The Church needs to re-examine the classical texts and the classical Christological controversies). The notion of three gods is as offensive to Christianity as to Islam. Christianitiy claims to be monotheistic, to believe in one God only - Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer - who is the Absolute origin and the Absolute consummation of the universe. Christianity and Islam reject all forms of Pantheism/Panentheism, i.e., God is the universe. (Nicene Creed, “I believe in one God” - all classical creeds affirm the same thing.)
The New Testament as well as The Qur’an protest against the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary (Mariolatry), while acknowledging the importance of Mary in the purpose of God.
3. Muslim - Shirk - association of anyone with God, giving God a partner - sura 5.72/76,
9.31, 7.190, 16.51/53, 17.22/23, 17.111, 19.35/36, 23-91/93, 25.2. The Qur’an is also
opposed to Christian heresies of Adoption, Patripassianism, Mariolatry, and Docetism, etc.
4. What is the Biblical teaching about The Trintiy? (not to be confused with Tri-Theism, i.e.,
Arian controversy expressed by Jehovah Witnesses).
a. Shema - Deut 6/Exodus 20 - “The Lord our Lord - is one Lord”
b. Glory - John 1.14-18 - The Great Explanation
c. Old Testament passages concerning Yahweh are applied to Jesus in The New Testament
without qualification or explanation (Biblical revelation of God is consistently opposed
to Atheism, Polytheism (or Tritheism), Deism,Pantheism/Panentheism, Henotheism,
and autonomous -Secularistic/Pluralistic Humanism: The Deification of man via New
Age Human Potentiality Movements-men as god! (My tapes on Humanism and New
Age Movement are available from the Media Center on the Lincoln Christian
d. Read Scriptures: John 1.1-18 Philippians 2.5-11; John 8.58 Revelation 3-14; 4.11;
5.12; Colossians 1.15-17,19 5.13 - 7.10; 17.14; Ephesians 1.10
Old Testament passages that speak of Yahweh are without hesitation applied to Jesus Christ (Deut 10.17; Rev 1.14, 5.6, 17.13, Daniel 7.9, Zechariah 4.10). Jesus Christ has co-sovereignty with the Father (Rev 11.15). He also shares one throne (Rev 22.1-3). The author of the Revelation identifies Christ with God, yet he knows nothing of two Gods. The glorified Christ is identified with the Christ of the self-emptying incarnation (Rev 1.18 and 5.6-9).
Dr. James Strauss
Theology and Philosophy
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, Illinois 62656-2111