In this chapter I will summarize our conclusions about the nature of Jesus. These conclusions are derived by consulting the Qur’an, Jewish and Christian scriptures, and history.
Jesus was a Muslim prophet who was sent, like any other prophet, with the overall objective of guiding people to God’s path. He confirmed the verity of Moses’ message, including the Torah, and other prophets before him. He tried to reform religious beliefs and practices that had been corrupted over time by unfaithful religious authorities. He was commanded to modify certain aspects of the Mosaic law. He also conveyed the good news about the coming of Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam.
As is the case with all prophets, Jesus was a human being. He never claimed that he possessed any form of divinity. He lived in a Jewish society that was strictly monotheistic and did not tolerate any claim to divinity by anybody other than God. Such claims were considered blasphemous. The concept that Jesus was divine appeared among Gentile converts outside Palestine, probably promoted by Paul who focused on converting Roman pagans to the religion he claimed Jesus preached.
Jesus declared that he was the Messiah that the Jews had been promised. But he stressed that he was a spiritual Messiah and rejected the concept of a military Messiah that the Jews had developed in response to their occupation by foreign forces for centuries. Only a small minority of Jews accepted Jesus’ reform of the concept of Messiah, so he had only a small number of followers during his life. This is how Paul’s missionary efforts with Roman pagans outside Palestine succeeded in replacing Jesus’ totally human identity with one that made him divine.
As the Jews did to their Messiah before Jesus, Christians changed the nature of their Messiah, Jesus, after him. But the Jews always believed that the Messiah was a human being, so Christianity’s claim that the Messiah was divine is unhistorical.
The attempts to change the image of Jesus from man to god gained more momentum over time. By the time the Gospel of John was written in the late 1st century or early 2nd century, the unhistorical, divine Jesus had already replaced, in many Christian circles, the historical man that Jesus was.
Jesus taught the oneness of God. He realized that he was going to be turned into a god, so he used the expression “son of man” as one way of emphasizing his human nature. Yet ironically, and as irrationally as it may be, this very term was hijacked by those who promoted his divinity and turned it into another way of saying “son of God” in the Christian sense, i.e. as another confirmation of Jesus’ divinity.
The concept of “son of God” was itself distorted. Christian theologians have presented this concept as implying some form of divinity. In fact, this Jewish concept never had any divine connotations. The Christian attempts to read the Jewish concept of “sonship of God” as implying divinity is simply an anachronism.
This fundamental change to Jesus’ image has resulted in various theological controversies, including how to describe this unique god-man that Jesus was turned into. The edification of Jesus, expressed in the fundamental doctrine of the Incarnation, led to the development of the doctrines of the Atonement and the Trinity. The Atonement was introduced by Paul and became a cornerstone of Christian faith. Yet this most important doctrine is never mentioned or even alluded to in the Gospels. At no point is Jesus quoted as referring to it.
The Trinity was developed centuries after Jesus, yet it also became a fundamental doctrine of Christianity. Anyone who has any doubts about the fact that Christian theologians have substantially changed Jesus’ image after him need only learn about how this alien doctrine was developed and incorporated into Christian theology.
To sum up, the Qur’an absolutely rejects Christianity’s elevation of Jesus to divinity. It rejects the claims that he was God’s son, God ever had offspring, or there is anyone divine other than God. The nature of Jesus’ or anyone else’s alleged divinity is irrelevant, as the divinity of anyone other than God is rejected without any qualification. The Qur’an presents Jesus as a prophet of Islam, and thus a human being.
The Qur’an states that Jesus taught that he was a human and that he was turned into a god by his followers after him. Significantly, this is what modern scholars have concluded. It is too tempting to see the differences between the Qur’an and Christian sources as one theology view versus another, and many see it or present it so. The reality is that the Qur’an’s account of what Jesus was and how he was made god by people is in line with what history tells us. The disagreement, then, is between the Qur’an and history, on one hand, and Christian sources, on the other. Those who choose to believe the latter do not only reject the Qur’an, but they also deny history.