Whether Jesus was a man or a god and man at the same time is one fundamental theological difference between Islam and Christianity. The Qur’an presents Jesus as a prophet of Islam, the one religion that all of God’s prophets from Adam to Muhammad preached. All Muslim prophets were human with no divine qualities, and so was Jesus. While the Qur’an says that God conferred so much favour on Jesus, it stresses that he was a mere mortal human being. It states that there was, is, and will always be one God. Christian sources, on the other hand, present Jesus as a man yet also elevate him to divinity.
The Gospels, other New Testament books, and Christian apocryphal writings make statements about Jesus that can only mean he was like any human being. For instance, Jesus is described as a “prophet” (e.g. Mark 6:2-5), “rabbi” (e.g. Mark 9:5), and even “servant” of God (e.g. Matt. 12:17-18). Yet the same sources contain passages that describe him in terms that can only mean that he was divine. For instance, Paul (Phi. 2:6) states that Jesus was “in the form of God.” Paul and other New Testament authors believed in the doctrine of Incarnation, which states that God descended as a human being in the form of Jesus. Most of the passages that deify Jesus also talk about his relation with God in a way that suggests that they are two separate beings, yet other passages confuse the two and all but remove any distinction between them. This, for instance, is what John (10:30) does when he makes Jesus declare: “I and the Father are one.”
This confusing language is not the result, as Christians believe, of Jesus’ complex nature. After all, there is no point in trying to use a human language to describe something that it is not equipped to do. The simple explanation of this confusion is that those different passages were written over a long period of time by different people who held irreconcilable beliefs. Not even any one Gospel is an authentic piece of work by any one man. It is a compilation of different traditions that the author gathered and to which he added his own views. Jesus’ appearance did not represent a shift in the concept of salvation. Otherwise, the coming of the one and only man-God would have meant that the billions who lived before him were unfairly denied the grace of the new salvation. The fact is that God did not change how He deals with man. It was, rather, some people who changed the truth about Jesus and succeeded in popularizing their unhistorical beliefs about him.
The confused relationship between God and Jesus has resulted in the development of competing Christian theological concepts to describe this unique relationship. For instance, some theologians, like John, believed that Jesus was divine from eternity. Adoptionists, on the other hand, claim that Jesus became divine at some point in his life. When this exactly happened is itself a point of disagreement among adoptionists.
How can someone be a god and man at the same time? Docetism tried to tackle this question by claiming that Jesus had only an appearance and did not have a physical body. Jesus did not suffer on the cross, Docetists argued, because he was god and did not have a body. Everything that happened to Jesus’ body, including the crucifixion, was an illusion. Others considered Docetism as sheer heresy.
The nature of the god-man unity that Jesus represented became a battleground for competing articulations of this concept — a concept that was unheard of in monotheism. The history of the development of the doctrine of Trinity, which I discuss in the book, epitomizes the struggle of theologians to cope with what sounds more like a logical fallacy than a meaningful concept.
Leaving aside the logical problems in any expression of a man-god unity, this book will try and show that history also rejects the suggestion that it was Jesus who taught that he had a divine nature. In fact, we will see how he put the efforts to preempt what he knew was going to happen after him, stressing that he was the “son of man” not the “son of God.”
The book has three parts consisting of 9 chapters and 1 appendix. Part I focuses on the historical, human Jesus and consists of two chapters. Chapter 1 presents the image of Jesus in the Qur’an. It first introduces the Qur’anic concepts of “Islam” and “prophethood” before explaining how Jesus is described as a Muslim prophet. This identity means that he was human not divine. The chapter then shows that Jesus’ image as a “prophet” is also found in the Gospels.
Both the Qur’an and Christian sources accept Jesus as the Messiah. Judaism also has the concept of the Messiah, but the Jews reject the identification of Jesus with the Messiah and argue that the latter is yet to come. Chapter 2 highlights the significant similarity between Judaism and Islam in that both religions consider the Messiah a human being. It also contrasts this image of the Messiah with its Christian counterpart which presents the Christ as divine.
The remaining two parts of the book focus on history’s rejection of the suggestion that Jesus was divine. This false divinity is what stops most Christians from seeing Jesus how he really was: a Muslim prophet.
Part II, which consists of four chapters, examines in detail the various forms of the concept of “son of God.” Chapter 3 shows that Jewish sources used the expression “sonship of God” figuratively. It did not suggest any form of divinity. The very different application of the concept of “son of God” to Jesus in Christian sources is discussed in Chapter 4. It also shows differences between the New Testament authors’ presentations of Jesus’ sonship of God. The Qur’anic rejection of Jesus’ sonship of God is the focus of Chapter 5. The expression “son of man,” which is found mainly in the Gospels in the New Testament, is highly significant for this discussion and is the subject of Chapter 6.
The last three chapters of the book make up Part III. This part looks at how Jesus was transformed into a divine individual by some of his followers, shows the historical and logical problems in this image, and discusses its refutation in the Qur’an. Chapter 7 explains how Paul developed the divine Jesus, thus playing a bigger role than Jesus himself in defining Christianity. It also discusses how the image of Jesus in the Gospel of John became the prevailing image in Christianity, despite its substantial difference with his image in the other Gospels. The Johannine image of Jesus removes any distinction between Jesus and God. Finally, the chapter explains a fundamental difference between the Qur’an and the Christian scriptures.
Chapter 8 studies one of the most important doctrines of Christianity and which is completely based on Jesus’ divine image: the Trinity. The chapter explains this doctrine, how it developed, and how it is rejected in the Qur’an. The last chapter of this part and the book, Chapter 9, draws on the previous 8 chapters to show how Jesus’ human image was changed over time to turn him from the human, Muslim prophet he claimed to be into a divine being that the apostle Paul and others who did not see or know Jesus preached. Naturally, his teachings were accordingly distorted to reflect his alleged divine nature.
For easy reference, I have compiled in Appendix A all Qur’anic verses that explicitly reject the divinity of Jesus.
For the reader’s convenience, the book has three indexes for the Qur’anic verses, Biblical passages, and names and subjects.
The book uses a number of styles. Each Qur’anic verse has been followed by a combination of two numbers identifying its sura or “chapter” and its position in that chapter. For instance, the combination 3.59 refers to the 59th verse of the 3rd chapter.
The translations of the Qur’anic verses are mine. Translation is an act of interpretation and therefore reflects the translator’s understanding of the text. This is why I always use my own translations of the Qur’an, even though I usually consult some existing English translations.
Square brackets have been used to enclose explanatory texts that are needed to clarify the translation. Alternative texts, such as the English meaning of a term that is quoted in its Arabic origin, are enclosed in parentheses.
All Biblical quotation are from the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible. First published in 2001, this modern translation is partly based on the King James Version.
The book uses a number of different printing styles. Different fonts have been used for the text, Qur’anic verses, and Biblical passages. Roman transliterations of Arabic terms are in italics.
Copyright © 2015 Louay Fatoohi
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