Is Jesus the “Son of God”?

21 02 2016

Jesus statue Rio   Recently I was having a meal in my home with a Muslim brother who often quotes the Bible to me and has a high honor for Jesus. I loved his openness to talk about Jesus, and wanted him to know that at least some of the differences between how Muslims and Christians talk about Jesus (not all) have their roots in historic and linguistic differences.

So I began to share about the phrase “son of God,” which is so difficult for Muslims to accept. The Qur’an clearly states that God cannot have a walad, or a biological offspring. Of course, all Christians would agree—Jesus’ sonship has nothing biological about it. So why did the Qur’an emphasize this point?

In the era of the Prophets of Israel, everyone was looking forward to the coming Messiah. He would be the “Anointed One,” the King who ushers in God’s Kingdom, the offspring of King David.

This concept of a King anointed by God to rule invoked a special relationship with God, which God chose to describe as a “Father-Son” relationship. In Psalm 89:20-27, we read that God called David his “firstborn,” and that David was to call God “Father.” This is even clearer in the case of Solomon, where God declares:

“I will be his a¯b (father), and he shall be my ben (son).”

Did you realize Jesus was not the first person to be called God’s son? But as Messiah, and rightful King, God spoke from the sky a similar pronouncement over Jesus in Luke 3:22:

“You are my ben (son), whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

So for a 1st century Jew, hearing a voice from heaven calling Jesus “the Son of God” would be understood as declaring him to be the Messiah (see also Matthew 16:16).

Now fast-forward to the 7th century and the birth of Islam. The Christian faith had spread throughout Greek and Roman culture, which both had religious traditions of major gods having sexual relations with other gods or with mankind to produce offspring, or minor gods—making the phrase “son of god” susceptible to more elastic interpretation. The Arabs themselves had centuries ago left the monotheism of Abraham and his son Ishmael and turned to worshiping a plurality of gods, which included male gods, female goddesses, and gods who were their offspring. There needed to be a clear call back to monotheism, to exalt God’s Oneness, and make it clear that He could have no offspring  (no walad, as opposed to the slightly more flexible Arabic word for “son” which is ibn, and has been used symbolically–like ben–in other Arabic texts).

While Christians believe that Jesus did have a unique relationship with God as the “eternal Word of God made flesh,” (John 1:1-14) the term “son” should not be a dividing point between Muslims and Christians, but a point of agreement. Jesus was not a walad, a biological son—far be it from God to have biological offspring—but an anointed Messiah-King, the “Al-Masih” mentioned in the Qur’an.

For those who want to explore many other Muslim-Christian misunderstandings based on historical or linguistic differences, let me recommend these two sources:

1) short video lectures on “Jesus in the Qur’an” accompanied by excellent articles from reputable Christian and Muslim scholars who are finding common ground at http://equalaccess.org.au/index.php/resources/videos

2) the outstanding book by Mark Siljander, A Deadly Misunderstanding, available at www.amazon.com or at http://www.adeadlymisunderstanding.com/

So when someone asks you, “Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God?” take a moment to understand what the person is really asking. Don’t let the terms divide you, when in reality you may believe much the same thing!

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Jesus in the Qur’an

16 09 2014

Just after commemorating 9/11, I received this email from a concerned Christian:

Jim, I see much error in your theology based on what I read on your Q and A and blog. I guess the question is do you focus on peace making or true repentance leading to salvation? I also am concerned by your view of Islam as worshiping the same God as Christians as well as your implication that the Koran is a holy book. Islam is demonic as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:19-20. Unless Muslims repent and turn to The Lord Jesus Christ, they will spend eternity in hell. This appears to be another gospel.

Thank you for your question and comments. I know many wonderful Christians who would agree with the views you’ve stated. I also know many wonderful Muslims who believe that Christians follow a false god and unless they convert to Islam Christians will spend eternity in hell. Even in our “rejection” of each other we stumble upon our commonalities!

Regarding my view of Allah, I think I’ve expressed it well in a previous Q&A post. I would disagree with you that I Corinthians 10:19-20 should be applied to the monotheistic God as viewed by the Jews or the Muslims. The context of this Bible passage is Greek polytheistic worship. Paul never referred to the Jews’ God as a “demon” even though the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah. Muslims have a very similar God-concept as the Jews AND they accept Jesus as Messiah—they just tend to overlook the life-changing implications of relating to Messiah as the Savior of the world.

Many Muslims, especially those who don’t speak Arabic as their native language, do not read the Qur’an in order to hear God’s voice speak through the written words spiritual truths to guide their lives, the way most evangelical Christians would approach the Bible. Instead, many Muslims trust their teachers to choose the most important parts of the Qur’an to teach. Because of this, unfortunately in my thinking, what the Qur’an teaches about Jesus is rarely emphasized as an essential truth all Muslims need for their daily lives.

Here are just a few things the Qur’an teaches about Jesus—

  • He had the most unique miracle birth in history, born to the Virgin Mary [19:16-22] by the Holy Spirit, and made a sign to all the peoples of the world [21:91]
  • He is called the “Word of God” and the “Spirit of God,” exalted in both this world and the next [3:45; 4:171]; no other prophet receives such exalted titles, titles which speak to Jesus’ relating to men’s spirits in 2 amazing ways
  • He creates life, heals disease, knows the secrets of men’s hearts, and even raises the dead [3:49]; this power Jesus demonstrates over sickness, Satan, and death is unparalleled in Muslim history, and many Muslims are discovering that Jesus will still do these miracles for them today!
  • He is the only sinless man to have ever lived [19:19]—Christians can see the significance of this in Jesus’ willing, sacrificial death on the cross to fulfill what the Prophet John spoke, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Sometimes it is hard for Muslims to see the significance of Jesus’ sinlessness.
  • Both the Qur’an [43:61] and the Hadith* (the traditions and sayings of Muhammad) point to Jesus as the one God chooses to return to Earth and become the Judge of the Final Day. The unique aspects of Jesus mentioned above qualify him uniquely to fulfill this role of which no one else is worthy. [*El Bukhari’s collection of hadith includes this one: “The Last Hour will not come until the Son of Mary come down as the just Judge.”]

In my experience in sitting through hundreds of Islamic events and hearing sermon after sermon, Jesus is rarely mentioned; when he is mentioned, the teacher quickly qualifies who Jesus ISN’T rather than honestly meditating on who Jesus IS using verses like I mention above.

I believe that the God of the Bible is the same God both Jews and Muslims are seeking. The Bible tells us that the Messiah will be a “stumbling block” to many. To the Jews, Jesus is “the stone the builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” To the Muslims, Jesus is not rejected, but I feel like they stumble over him and thus miss all that the Messiah of the world is offering them.

I offer these views humbly, knowing that you and I and my Jewish friends and my Muslim friends are all seeking to be closer to God, to understand His truth, to walk on the straight path. May God grant us all Light to guide our own next steps on thisParrinder book journey to Him.

For what I consider a scholarly and fair treatment of Jesus in the Qur’an, try Geoffrey Parrinder’s book, available at amazon.com.





Ishmael–God Hears

4 04 2012

An illustration of Genesis 21:18. Print 448 in...

This week I read a wonderful book by an insightful Pakistani brother, Faisal Malick, entitled HERE COMES ISHMAEL: The Kairos Moment for the Muslim People.  What I loved about the book was the tremendous hope Malick holds, based on the Bible, for millions of Muslims to find a fulfillment of their cry for God through the Messiah, Jesus.

Only 4 Bible characters were directly named by God: Jesus, John the Baptist, Isaac and Ishmael.  Ishmael’s name means “God hears.” In Genesis 21, as a teenager, Ishmael faces a faith-crisis like few of us could imagine.  First his own father rejects him and sends him away.  Then the supplies run out and he knows he’s going to die.  His own mother can’t bear to watch and distances herself from him, too, leaving him totally alone.  Malick imagines Ishmael may have asked questions such as, “Who am I?  The son of a patriarch, or just the son of a servant?” “My father taught me about God, but like my father and mother, has God forsaken me too?”  Even without the lack of nourishment, Ishmael could have given up on life with a broken heart, broken identity, and broken faith.

But in Genesis 21:17 it says that God heard Ishmael’s cry.  The prophecy hidden in his name became his experience.  And God opened their eyes to see a water source that had been with them all along but they just couldn’t see it.

Many modern Muslims express a similar heart-cry for God, but issues of rejection, broken hearts, fractured identities, and despairing faith have blinded them to the Living Water right under their noses–the Messiah, Jesus, highly honored in the Qur’an, coming again to Judge the earth, the one Healer who can bring wholeness to their hearts.  He’s already present to save for those with eyes to see.

Malick exhorts us: “We must intercede for the Muslims like a mother would for her dying child.  Some of us have walked away from Ishmael, just like his own mother did, because the condition of Ishmael seems so hopeless in many ways; but we must yield to the Spirit of God and [believe] God will hear the cry of the Muslim people in this hour.”

I believe that the truth of God’s destiny over the sons of Ishmael is not fully found in “Islam” which means “submission.”  The submission of a servant is not the same as the affectionate relationship of a son.  But God will reveal to the Muslim world the truth of their destiny hidden in the name “Ishmael.”  God hears.  Even in the greatest crisis, at the lowest point, God has not abandoned them, He hears.

Without a father, a son’s identity and destiny cannot be fully fulfilled.  Jesus said he came to “reveal the Father.”  Who needs this revelation more than Ishmael’s children?  And as I’ve said before, Malachi 4:6 prophesies this revelation is on its way!

When Romans 10:19 talks about Israel being “provoked” to jealousy by the salvation of the Gentiles, could it be millions of Muslims reaching out to the Jews with a new love found in Jesus will finally provoke the Jews to consider that Jesus could be their Messiah?  Wouldn’t that just be like Father God to use a good (but despised) Samaritan to bring healing to a hurting Jew, to use a long-lost son (unwanted by his own brother) who comes home to start a party in Father’s house for everyone, including the older son who never understood his Father’s love?

Pray with me for Muslims worldwide to see what they couldn’t see before–an open door (John 10:9) for them to come as sons back into the Father’s house.  And when it happens, I want to be in the house partying with them! 🙂