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The Islamic Dilemma: A Critique of Islam’s Jesus


By Anonymous, Edited by Paul Gillett

To obey the Quran and to follow the six articles of faith of Islam is also to embrace a dilemma. One of the articles of faith is to believe in whatever was revealed to the prophets including Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Notice that Jesus is a prophet and not the Son of God in Islam. This is because the Quran is the final revelation in Islam, so it supplies information about what Jesus taught, almost six centuries later. According to Islam, Jesus is not divine, and never claims to be so. However, the Quran says that Allah revealed the Torah and the Gospel (See Quran 3:3). Thus we see the dilemma, if Jesus claims to be divine in the Gospels, the Quran is wrong. Or if the Gospels are wrong, then so is the Quran that affirms them.

First we must consider a common Muslim objection, “Jesus does not say ‘I am God, worship me.” It is true that those exact words do not appear in the Gospels. However, those familiar with the Gospels should note that Jesus had enemies who were seeking to kill him (see Mt 2:16, Mk 14:1, Lk 13:31, Jn 5:18, 7:1, 7:19, 8:37), and to trap him in his speech (see Mt 22:15, Jn 8:6). Considering this, if Jesus were to go around saying, “I am God, worship me,” it would bring down the wrath of his enemies even further. Second, this question proposes a standard of clarity which could be turned back on the objector. One might ask in reply, “Where does Jesus say these words, ‘I am not God, do not worship me?” Those words also do not appear in the Gospels.

Let us examine the Muslim objection in two parts. First, does Jesus say “I am God,” or more generally, does Jesus claim to be divine in the Gospels? We find one of Jesus’ first actions in Mark’s Gospel is to forgive sins, and when some of the scribes present hear this, they say, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7). Jesus then heals the paralytic to show that he does have authority to forgive sins (see Mk 2:1-12). Nowhere in that episode does Jesus correct the statement of those who say only God can forgive sins. A human prophet would be eager to correct people who would be thinking in that moment Jesus was doing what God does. Jesus offers no such correction or assurance that he is not God nor claiming to be. Jesus later claims to be Lord of the sabbath when questioned about his sabbath work (Mk 2:23-28). The sabbath was a holy day, in which no one, not even animals or foreigners could be made to work (see Ex 20:10-11). The sabbath rest was a command from God, therefore only God should have the right to claim lordship over the sabbath. The most obvious claims of divinity Jesus makes can be found in John’s Gospel. Consider the story of Jesus claiming the name of God (compare with Ex 3:15), “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple” (Jn 8:58-59). Here Jesus claims the name of God as revealed to Moses, and the people clearly hear this as a claim to divinity because they pick up stones to stone him for blasphemy.

We see that Jesus does make the ‘I am God’ claim that Muslims say he does not, but what about the second part, ‘worship me?’ When Jesus goes in the desert in order to fast and is confronted by the devil, Jesus quotes the Scriptures to repel him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Mt 4:10) The same Greek word is also used during Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well to refer to worship of the Father (see Jn 4:20-24). Jesus on multiple occasions accepts this worship from others, and the Greek word is the same, according to an interlinear Greek Bible. After Jesus walks on water in Matthew’s Gospel, those in the boat worship him (see Mt 14:33). After the Resurrection in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is worshipped by the disciples twice (see Mt 28:9, 17), and once after the Resurrection in Luke (Lk 24:52). Curiously enough, in Mark’s Gospel even a demon possessed man worships Jesus (Mk 5:6). In John’s Gospel, Jesus is worshipped by a man whom he had healed (Jn 9:38). When Peter was worshipped by Cornelius (the Greek word is again the same), he immediately corrects Cornelius and says he is only a man (Acts 10:25-26). Jesus never offers such a correction. In summary, Muslims often claim that Jesus did not say “I am God, worship me.” But according to the Gospels, Jesus did accept the name of God and do things that only God can do, and Jesus did accept the worship due to God.

The Islamic dilemma becomes clearer when we compare the words and actions of Jesus in the Gospels to the text of the Quran. The Quran says that the same religion was given to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (see 42:13). Already things are difficult, because Islam denies the divinity of Jesus Christ, not to mention the differences between Islam and the practice of religion in the Old Testament. In the Quran the Torah and the Gospels are revealed by Allah, “He has revealed to you{O Prophet} the book in truth, confirming what came before it, as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel…” (3:3) The Quran also commands, “So let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed in it. And those who do not judge by what Allah has revealed are {truly} rebellious” (5:47). The Quran also says, “O People of the Scripture, you are [standing] on nothing until you uphold [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord” (5:68) The Quran also says that Muhammad is found in the Torah and the Gospel (Quran 7:157). How can people find Muhammad in the Scripture if the Scriptures have been corrupted? The Quran is seeming in all these passages to affirm the inspiration of the Gospels. But how do Muslims react to this dilemma?

Once Muslims see the dilemma, the first response is to attack one end of the dilemma, mainly the Gospels. They say that the Gospels have been corrupted, so the Quran is correct in regard to their inspiration, but the Gospels as found in the time of Muhammad and even today are corrupted, not the real Gospel. This entails a claim that there were some Christians, somewhere, that did not believe in the divinity of Christ or (by extension) any other teachings of Christianity that contradict the Quran. They will say that these Christians died out early on, and the Christianity today is not the true Christianity. Since these are historical claims, they can be evaluated based on evidence.

Muslims will sometimes claim that early Christians did not believe in the divinity of Christ, sometimes mentioning heretical groups like the Arians or perhaps the Ebionites. To do this is to invite a lot of work and a lot of skepticism. Arius and his theology are not recorded in the earliest of Church fathers, so to assume he represents the original Christianity is unlikely. If Arian theology was present as a minority since the beginning, then the rest of Christianity (including the Church Fathers) would be writing against it, or at least mentioning it in some way. Therefore it is extremely unlikely that Arianism was the true Christianity and was overpowered by a Trinitarian majority and did not resurface until the 4th century. Consider also that for this theory to be true, the earliest Christians would have to have been incredibly mistaken or just plain stupid. Consider a passage from St. Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote in the 150’s and was a friend of St. Polycarp, who was taught by the Apostle John: “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passable and then impassable — even Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Letter to the Ephesians, 7). This shows that the second generation of Christians believed Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, to say that true Christianity did not believe this is to make the early Church Fathers look completely misled.

The Ebionites are sometimes mentioned by Muslims as the true Christians that were then lost to history. The Ebionites did deny the divinity of Christ, some denied the virgin birth, and they obeyed the Jewish Law. If some Ebionites denied the virgin birth, then they are against the Quran that affirms it (see Quran 19:20). Let us remember that the point of mentioning heretics and saying the Gospels are corrupt is to square the circle of the Quran’s affirmation of the Gospels with the Gospel’s disagreeing with the Quran. Thus it seems problematic to have any form of Christianity disagreeing with the Quran. It is decided in the New Testament that Christians are not bound by dietary or circumcision laws (See Acts 10: 9-17 and Acts 15), so the Ebionites going back to obeying them is already a strange notion. Once again, to hold this theory is to consider St. Irenaeus, who was taught by St. Polycarp (who himself was taught by John), as completely misled on one of the essential teachings of Christianity. In closing, consider a short summary of the Christian faith given by St. Irenaeus:

“The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” (Ephesians 1:10) and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” (Philippians 2:10-11) to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” (Ephesians 6:12) and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.”

(Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 10)

There is another reason why Muslim appeals to a hidden group of Christians fail, and that is because those theories go against the Quran. Since the various heretical groups that are the supposed true Christians make little mark in history, they are said to be a small minority that was suppressed by the majority. The Quran says, “But when Jesus felt [persistence in] disbelief from them, he said, “Who are my supporters for [the cause of] Allah?” The disciples said,”We are supporters for Allah. We have believed in Allah and testify that we are Muslims [submitting to Him]” (Quran 3:52). The Quran envisions Jesus’ disciples as Muslims. First, this makes the claim even more ridiculous that heretical groups are the true Christianity. Since St. Irenaeus condemns the Ebionites, and if the true Christianity is what the Ebionites believe, how was this faith lost and distorted by two people (Polycarp and Irenaeus)? If the Quran says the twelve Apostles had the correct faith Jesus preached, how did they lose it so quickly, and without a trace? Second, the Quran says, “[Mention] when Allah said, “O Jesus, indeed I will take you and raise you to Myself and purify you from those who disbelieve and make those who follow you [in submission to Allah alone] superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return, and I will judge between you concerning that in which you used to differ.” (Quran 3:55) If the Quran says Jesus’ followers will be superior until the Day of Resurrection, how did they die out so quickly and leave barely a trace in the form of what we know today as heretical groups?

In conclusion, there is an important dilemma that Muslims must face, either the Quran is wrong about the inspiration of the Gospel or wrong about the deity of Christ. There is a fundamental difference between the Jesus of the Quran and the Jesus of the Gospel. The Jesus of the Gospel says shocking things, like claiming he is lord of the sabbath, or claiming the name of God for himself (Mk 2:23 and Jn 8:58). The Jesus of the Quran says, “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” (Quran 61:6) The Jesus of the Quran would never say such things as he says in the Gospel. The contradiction is fundamental, there is no trivializing it or pushing it to the side. Once again Jesus asks the powerful question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15). Let us stand with Peter, who says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16).

References from Original Footnotes:

Arendzen, John. “Ebionites.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 25 Nov. 2020 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05242c.htm&gt;.

See debate, “What is God really like: Tawhid or Trinity? Shabir Ally and Nabeel Qureshi”. Dr. Ally claims Ebionites are the true Christians during his opening statement.

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