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What the Qur’an Says About…(2): Jesus

The Lord is not spoken of as the king of the Jews, but he is said to have had a special mission to Jewry and was one of the greatest prophets of Allah. While the Qur’an says the Jews rejected Jesus, it claims his crucifixion was faked and that he was taken to heaven to be with Allah.

There is nothing said about Jesus being the savior from sin, his return to earth, or his being the king of the world. Despite the assertion of a virgin birth, there is vigorous denial of Jesus being the Son of God, along with attacks on Trinitarians.

This is a brief summary of what the Qur’an says about Jesus. We now look at the details.

The virgin birth

Similar accounts of the annunciation to Mary and of the birth of Jesus are found in Suras (the Qur’an consists of 114 chapters called “Suras”) 3 and 19 of the Qur’an. After some preliminary comments about Mary, Sura 3 records:

“Behold! The angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor 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 has touched me?’ He said: ‘Even so: Allah creates what he wills: when He has decreed a Plan, He but says to it, ‘Be’, and it is! And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, and (appoint him) a Messenger to the Children of Israel…’ “ (3:45-49).

Note the phrase, “son of Mary”. In the Qur’an, this is the consistent description of the lineage of Christ, as opposed to the titles “Son of Man”, or “Son of God”. We may wonder that, if Jesus was the son of a woman, who does the Qur’an present as his father? The Qur’an’s solution is that Jesus was a special creation like Adam:

“The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be’ and he was” (3:59).

This explanation is hardly consistent with Mary miraculously conceiving a child in her womb; but as we will observe on several topics, consistency is not a strong feature of the Qur’an.

Sura 19:21-34 has the following about the birth of Jesus:

“So she conceived him, and retired with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree…”

At the palm-tree, an angel provides for Mary and admonishes her to temporary silence about her situation. Eventually she returns home with the baby Jesus, much to the amazement of her neighbors. They knew Mary was not married and had respected her as a chaste virgin.

“At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: ‘O Mary! Truly an amazing thing you have brought! O sister of Aaron! [the Qur’an has Mary as a Levite] your father was not a man of evil, nor your mother an unchaste woman!”

They are accusing her of fornication. Her response is to point to the baby Jesus who is said to perform his first miracle by speaking to the accusers:

“But she pointed to the babe. They said: ‘How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?’ He [Jesus] said: ‘I am indeed a servant of Allah: He has 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)!’ “ (19:29-34).

While the details are not at all Biblical, we can see how some of the general ideas were picked up from common Christian teaching of Muhammad’s day. The supposed miracle of Jesus’ early pronouncement may be a confusion of John the Baptist acknowledging Jesus from the womb of Elizabeth, and Jesus’s profound comments at the age of 12 (Luke 1:41; 2:46,47).

Denial that Jesus is the Son of God

Following this description of the conception and birth of Jesus, the Qur’an immediately disclaims Jesus as the Son of God:

“It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him!” (19:35).

The Qur’an is insistent that:

“Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He [Allah] bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him [Allah]: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Do not say ‘Trinity’ “ (4:171).

The Qur’an recognizes only two options: (1) the Trinity, or (2) that Jesus was no more than any other human in spite of the unique circumstances of his conception. We read:

“They do blaspheme who say: ‘God is Christ the son of Mary.’ But Christ said: ‘O children of Israel! Worship God, my Lord and your Lord.’ Whoever joins other gods with Allah — Allah will forbid him the Garden [reward of the righteous], and the Fire [hell fire] will be his abode… They do blaspheme who say: ‘God is one of three in a Trinity’: for there is no god except one god (Allah)… 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” (5:72-75).

In the Qur’an, claiming Christ as the Son of God is linked with the church structure of priests and saints:

“The Christians call Christ the Son of Allah… Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth! They take their priests and their anchorites [religious recluses] to be their lords in derogation of Allah, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One God (Allah): there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: (far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him)” (9:30,31).

Reading these passages we understand why Muslims aggressively attack the teaching regarding Jesus as the Son of God. They may even claim Jesus never calls himself the Son of God in the Bible. To rightly explain Scripture, we should be ready with:

  • the circumstances when God declares Jesus as His Son (Matt3:17; 17:5);
  • those times when Jesus confirms his followers are right to declare him the Son of God (Matt16:16, 17; John1:49; 6:69, etc.);
  • the accusations by the Jews that Jesus used this phrase of himself (Matt 27:43; John 10:35-37; 19:7); and
  • those instances when he clearly alludes to himself as the Son of God (Matt 22:45; John 5:25;17:1, etc.).

The ministry of Christ

The Qur’an depicts Jesus as one of the succession of prophets Allah sent to Israel:

“We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of Messengers; We gave Jesus the son of Mary clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit” (2:87).

From the time of his conception it is said:

“Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, and (appoint him) a Messenger to the Children of Israel (3:48,49).

Of course the Qur’an considers Muhammad in this same prophetic line:

“And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: ‘O Children of Israel! I am the Messenger of Allah (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving Glad Tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad’ “ (61:6).

Moreover the Qur’an claims that, during his ministry, Jesus was to adjust Israel’s dietary laws (3:50), settle their disputes, and be an example toIsraelof right behavior:

“He [Jesus] was no more than a servant: We granted Our favor to him, and we made him an example to the Children of Israel… When Jesus came with Clear Signs, he said: ‘Now I have come to you with Wisdom, and in order to make clear to you some of the (points) on which you dispute: therefore fear Allah and obey me’ “ (43:59, 63).

To prove his words as true, the Qur’an says Jesus was empowered with the holy spirit by Allah:

“You healed those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! You brought forth the dead by My leave” (5:110).

Two non-Biblical miracles are also referred to. First,

“And behold! you made out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and you breathed into it, and it became a bird by My leave” (5:110).

This apparently comes from the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.

Secondly, the disciples are said to ask for:

“…a table set (with viands) from heaven… we only wish to eat thereof and satisfy our hearts, and to know that you have indeed told us the truth; and that we ourselves may be witnesses to the miracle” (5:112,113).

The discussion on bread from heaven in John 6 or the participation in the last supper could be what suggested this narrative to Muhammad.

The ministry of Christ is depicted as failing to convert Israel, so he pronounced a curse on them:

“Curses were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected Faith, by the tongue of David and of Jesus the son of Mary: because they disobeyed and persisted in Excesses” (5:78).

In the day of judgment, Jesus is said to be a special witness against the Jews:

“And there is none of the People of the Book [the Jews], but must believe in Him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them” (4:159).

While the Lord is presented as having a special relation to the children of Israel, he is not spoken of the as king of the Jews nor as the promised seed of Abraham and David.

Death and resurrection

There are mixed comments in the Qur’an regarding the death of the Lord Jesus. In a section already cited, the infant Jesus is reputed to say:

“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)!” (19:33).

This indicates Jesus will die and at some point be resurrected.

In the item just cited from Sura 4, his death is also referred to, as the Jews must believe in Jesus “before his death” (4:159). However, two verses ahead of this comment a different picture is presented:

“They [the Jews] said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’ — but they did not kill him nor crucify him, but so it was made to appear to them… they did not kill him — Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself” (4:157,158).

The Qur’an does not comment further on what happened atCalvary, nor does it comment as to if and when Jesus died.

At the present time, the evident teaching is that Jesus is in heaven, being one of those nearest to Allah, as we have noted:

“Allah raised him up unto Himself” (4:158).

“Behold! Allah said: ‘O Jesus! I will take you and raise you to Myself’ “ (3:55).

And, as we earlier saw, the angel says to Mary,

“His name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah” (3:45).

As we noted last month, mixed statements on a given subject are rather common in the Qur’an, as the book says of itself that later revelation supplants earlier ones. Yet with the book giving little clue of its chronology, we are left in the dark as to the statements which are supposed to carry the greater weight.

True Christians are Muslims

Since Christ and Muhammad are said to be in the same line of prophets, it is not surprising that the Qur’an teaches all true Christians should also be Muslims:

“When Jesus found unbelief on their [the Jews’] part, he said: ‘Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah?’ Said the Disciples: ‘We are Allah’s helpers: we believe in Allah, and you bear witness that we are Muslims’ “ (3:52).

Those Christians who are not followers of Allah are said to have fallen from the true gospel preached by Jesus:

“We sent after them [the prophets] Jesus the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel… But the Monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them: (We commanded) only the seeking for the Good Pleasure of Allah; but that they did not foster as they should have done… many of them are rebellious transgressors” (57:27).

While respecting Jesus as a great prophet and righteous man, the Qur’an never views him as providing God’s basis for the forgiveness of sins. In the Qur’an, the basis for forgiveness is Allah’s mercy upon our repenting of wrong and our doing of right. We thus find that what the Qur’an says about Jesus is a rather interesting mixture of truth and error.

Don Styles