Debate: Was Jesus the Son of God Or Only the Prophet of God – Audience’s Review #2
This is the second of several audience reviews from the debate between Dr. Tony Costa and myself. The following review is from Br. Muhammad Asad (UK):
Main Points / Arguments
Dr Costa made the following points in his opening statement:
• Jesus is both God’s prophet and the Son of God
• We need to go to earliest sources to know about the historical Jesus – the New Testament documents which were composed in the 1st century. All New Testament scholars go to the New Testament writings to know about the historical Jesus
• These earliest documents are unanimous in teaching that Jesus was the Son of God. According to Dr Costa, Ijaz has to produce a 1st century document which states that Jesus was only God’s prophet and no more
• The language of “sonship” is also found in the Jewish Bible. Dr Costa gave examples of how the term “son” is applied in the Jewish Bible (used for angels, for Israel as a nation, the Messianic king etc)
• According to Dr Costa, in Islam while God is the Master and humanity is slave, the Bible goes beyond this and presents God like a father to His people
• When Jesus spoke of himself as God’s son, it was in terms of a unique relationship – as a unique Son of God. Hence the charge of “blasphemy” levelled upon Jesus in the New Testament
• Historians do not go to the Quran to learn anything about the historical Jesus because the Quran came to the scene 600 years after Jesus. Hence the Quran is “historically worthless.”
• Sayings attributed to Jesus within the Quran come from apocryphal sources
• Jesus never denied that he was God’s son. Gospel of John is cited at this stage as evidence for this claim and the Gospel of Mark is also referred to – Jesus being questioned about whether or not he was son of the most High
• Dr Costa referred to Prof. Tarif Khalidi, author of “The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature” who supposedly asserts that the Jesus found in Islam is a “fabrication” and not the historical Jesus “found in the gospels.”
These are basically the points which Dr Costa proceeded to repeat in the rest of the debate. I will offer my reply to some of these points very shortly.
Ijaz Ahmad’s approach, in sharp contrast, was radically different. Ahmad took the philosophical approach to deny that Jesus was the son of God. According to Ahmad, it does not matter to him what the New Testament says. Ahmad explained that when Christians say “Son of God,” they actually mean “God.” Therefore, the title of the debate should be,“Is Jesus God or just a Prophet of God?” Simply, he will set out to show why Jesus could not be the Son of God (as in “God”) philosophically, ontologically and rationally.
I breakdown Ahmad’s main points as follows:
• In typical Christian-Muslim debates, Christians argue: the New Testament asserts that Jesus is the Son of God, “prophecies” are cited from the Jewish Bible, a few quotations are presented from secular historians, it is asserted that the Quran denies Jesus being God’s son, that the Quran misunderstood the Trinity and that according to the Quran God needs a consort. Muslims respond that the Jewish Bible is cited out of context by Christians, the New Testament is not a reliable historical source, “son of God” is a diverse term and not unique to Jesus and that the Christians are misinterpreting the Quran. Ahmad says he will reject this script in this debate.
• “Son of God,” as used by Christians, means God
• Christians in general are tremendously confused and uncertain about the doctrine of the “Son of God” and even more when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity. Ahmad quotes the polemicist Dr James R. White and R.C. Sproul in this regard, who acknowledge that Christians misunderstand the doctrine of the Trinity
• In Islam Jesus is God’s Nabi. Thus, Jesus is God’s Prophet and the Islamic position is rational and most probable
• In Islam a prophet does not inherently have future knowledge; this is given to him by God. The problem begins if Jesus is “Son of God,” as in God, Jesus would then be expected to have all knowledge (past, present, future). He would not be given this knowledge. Being God, he would already have it. Yet a prophet by nature cannot be God because they do not possess the knowledge of the unseen (unless God grants them this knowledge)
• The teaching of Islam is: there is nothing comparable to or like God. Ahmad asserted that this is the “best example of perfect-being theology.”
• The “Son of God,” in contrast, is not a perfect-being theology. If Jesus is said to be the Son of God, we then have ontological, philosophical and soteriological problems to deal with – Ahmad cites Michael Rea who asserts that God existing as a Trinity consisting of three persons with one nature could not be derived from a perfect-being theology
• Ahmad asked how God could suffer? To say that only the human nature suffered, argued Ahmad, caused one to fall prey to the heresy of Nestorianism – because the two natures of Jesus are eternally united. Therefore, it cannot be said that only one nature experienced something whereas the other nature did not. It is either Nestorianism or polytheism, argued Ahmad
• Arguing further, Ahmad explained that when Christians assert that God loves them or God speaks, they mean the collective persons of the Godhead. So when it is said that God died or God suffered – and given the claim that God is of one substance and undivided – then how can it be said that only one suffered?
• Ahmad mentioned that faced with this difficulty, there have been some Christians who believed that the Father also suffered alongside Jesus. This is the heresy of Patripassianiasm
• If Christians are to be theologically consistent, then they should worship Satan and not Jesus or God because Satan grants death (author of death), God is the author of life
• Jesus was not a maximally perfect being. He was ignorant of the hour. Therefore, ontologically, Jesus cannot be God as he does not fulfil the criteria of being a maximally perfect being. According to Ahmad, proto-Orthodox Christianity falls into the heresy of subordinationism
• Jesus was strengthened by angels, he was once overcome by death, he was ignorant of the hour and can, therefore, in no way be perfect. The Son of God lacks the attributes of God
Of course, much like Dr Costa, Ahmad too proceeded to repeat his above points throughout the remainder of the debate.
Thoughts on the Rebuttals
It seems that Dr Costa was not expecting such a presentation from Ahmad. Thus, there was really no significant engagement with Ahmad’s arguments. Instead, Dr Costa stated that Ahmad was making irrelevant arguments and avoiding the topic of the debate. This I consider to be a highly disingenuous claim because when discussing whether Jesus is God’s son – particularly when we know that people like Dr Costa take this to mean “more than a man” – then we are inevitably discussing the Trinity. Ahmad was rationally, philosophically and ontologically arguing why Jesus couldn’t be the Son of God, God, the second person of the Trinity, and was no more than a Prophet.
Even more unbelievable was Dr Costa’s following assertion: that by rejecting the authority of the Bible, Ahmad had declared himself to be a “kafir” because as per the Quran, a dreadful torment awaits you if you deny God’s revelation! But this understanding of Dr Costa is not an incontrovertible fact. According to Muslims, this is an example of Dr Costa’s esigesis of a passage of the Quran. Muslims dismiss his interpretation and understand the passage in a very different way (that God is referring to the original revealed books to the Prophets and not the Pauline epistles, the pseudonymous epistles of the New Testament and anonymous ancient biographical type documents such as the gospels). Ahmad, later corrected Dr Costa and explained that the Quran was referring to the Injil revealed by God and not to ancient biographical type of documents such as the gospels.
This entire cockamamie argument regarding the “Quran endorses the Bible” has received a detailed refutation here: Does Islam Endorse The Bible?
Dr Costa asserted that while Ahmad rejects the New Testament documents and does not care about them, historians do care about what they have to say. I think Dr Costa may have misunderstood Ahmad. Ahmad stated clearly that he was taking a different approach, a philosophical approach, in order to argue why Jesus could not be “Son of God” – as in God, the second person of the Trinity. Hence, for him the assertions of the New Testament are irrelevant because they do not explain away the irrational nature of the Trinity as expounded by Ahmad. Of course, that does not follow that he believes that the New Testament documents should be tossed in the bin by historians who want to investigate historical issues.
Perhaps the most startling assertion by Dr Costa was as follows:
“…those who were eyewitnesses who compiled these documents, we’re interested in knowing what they say.” Time slice: 48.56 – 49.03
Who are these eyewitnesses who “compiled” the New Testament documents? None. There really are none. The New Testament documents were not even authored by any “eyewitnesses” that we know of, let alone “compiled” by them.
We have no documents from any eyewitness from Jesus’ historical ministry.
Dr Costa also made the following analogy: Ahmad’s arguments are no different from the arguments made by Bahaullah, who claimed that Muhammad (saw) was not the last Prophet of God! But this is surely a false analogy. In a discussion pertaining to the person of Jesus, one is absolutely justified in arguing why Jesus couldn’t be the Son of God / God / second person of the Trinity – be it historically or philosophically. This is relevant. How is this even remotely akin to Dr Costa’s Bahaullah analogy? As Ahmad correctly explained, he was considering the topic through the prism of the philosophy of religion and attempting to ascertain if the Christian stance was rational. The Bahaullah analogy is nothing of this sort.
At one point in his first rebuttal, Dr Costa did attempt to engage with with some of Ahmad’s arguments: Jesus was not literally but only metaphorically the “son of God,” that Ahmad misunderstood Nestorianism because it taught that there were two persons in Christ and that Patripassianiasm was also rejected as a heresy by the Church. Ahmad, however, did not deny that these were heresies. As for God dying on the cross, Dr Costa said that in the incarnation it was only the humanity of Christ which died. The little problem here is that Ahmad already explained why these answers were deficient – how the divine and the human nature cannot be separated – and how Christians such as Dr Costa are guilty of committing these heresies in their defences of the Trinitarian understanding of God.
Much like his opening statement, from time to time Dr Costa continued to have various goes at the Quran and the next section will be my take on his polemics.
Addressing Dr Costa’s outdated and irrational Polemics
1. Scholars do not approach the Quran to learn about the historical Jesus – this is a strange comment. Indeed the Quran arrives at the scene some 600 years after Jesus. If we a priori dismiss the possibility of miracles and revelation, and deny a priori the possibility of Muhammad (saw) having received revelation from God, then naturally we would not use the Quran to know anything about the historical Jesus. We would go to the earliest sources. In a similar manner, historians deem to be “historically worthless” the words attributed to Jesus pertaining to the prophets of the old. They would go to the earlier pre-New Testament documents to learn about the prophets who were active much before the time of Jesus and would not be approaching the words of Jesus to learn, say, about the historical David, historical Moses, the historical Abraham etc. This does not cause any “problems” for Muslims. We believe that the Quran is the revelation of God. Therefore, it does not matter if this revelation occurred 600 years after the earthly ministry of Jesus. The source is God and God knows what happened.
2. Historical Jesus Research – Jesus as God and “Son” – From time to time Dr Costa mentioned the “historical Jesus.” He talked about the title “son of God,” cited some New Testament passages and commented how “liberal” scholars deem them to be authentic.
People like Dr Costa are terrific salesmen who are selling a highly deficient product, namely, their evangelical Jesus. I say this because the historical Jesus studies, as a whole, has completely destroyed the evangelical conception of Jesus. For example, consider the divinity of Jesus (emphasis added):
“One of the cardinal principles of historical Jesus research is that the belief in Jesus’s divinity is a post-resurrection phenomenon. During his life, his acts of power were understood as signs that God (or Satan) was working through him– not that he was God.
The gospel of John presents Jesus teaching that he’s divine, but most scholars treat this as a later interpretation rather than a historical fact because it’s so much more highly developed here than in the earlier gospels and gospel sources …” 1
Apologists such as Dr Costa speak as if the historical Jesus research is on their side whereas the truth is the complete opposite.
Consider now the term “son of God.” I cite here the conclusions of two mainstream New Testament scholars (all emphasis added).
Christopher Tuckett (after discussing this title in details, concludes):
“The term ‘son of God’ was thus a very wide-ranging one at the time of the New Testament. But if one thing is clear it is that, at least within a Jewish context, the term was used not infrequently and with no overtones of divinity being ascribed to the person referred to in this way.” 2
“In any event, one must beware of reading into the title [son of God] the meaning it acquired in later Trinitarian controversies.” 3
It is this *new* meaning in the post Jesus environment which the Quran rightly denies.
The above are mainstream historical Jesus views.
3. Why the Historical Jesus Research? Don’t all New Testament Scholars go to the “reliable” 1st Century New Testament writings? – if the New Testament writings are reliable historically, then why is there a need to do historical Jesus research? Why can’t we just read off the New Testament and take its claims at face value?
The answer is simple. Besides the most conservative of Christians, Historical Jesus scholars do not deem the New Testament to be a historically reliable source on the life of Jesus. They have devised criteria to figure out what Jesus probably did or did not say/do as related in the New Testament.
Virtually all scholars acknowledge the fact that there are both reliable and unreliable pieces of information within the canonical gospels.
Generally, scholars agree that stories about Jesus and his words were changed in different ways as these were passed along orally. The changes also occurred when written gospel documents began to appear and even thereafter. The difference of opinion is over the question of “how much/many” changes occurred. But all agree that changes did occur. How can we be sure that stories about Jesus and his words were altered in different ways? Simple: by comparing the same stories in the canonical gospels. When we do this we encounter some major and many minor differences between them.
1. Jesus preached and taught and left an impact upon many. 2. His followers (and some who didn’t join him) remembered him and talked about his words and teachings, passing them on to others. 3. Here stories and words began changing in different ways; 4. gospel authors tapped into some/many of these traditions – which were already undergoing alterations – and further adapted them to suit their own particular needs. Some stories were changed minutely, some were significantly changed and some stories were even invented and some words were also invented and subsequently attributed to Jesus.
Of course, ultimately we do not know precisely and exactly how (and why) the changes occurred. All we can be reasonably certain about is that changes did nonetheless occur. All the above type of things must have occurred.
As a result, scholars have devised a number of criteria to evaluate the grade of authenticity of material within the canonical gospels in an attempt to determine the probable authenticity/inauthenticity of the stories and sayings within them. When scholars read words attributed to Jesus within the gospels, they do not just take them to be Jesus’ verbal wording. As Tuckett explains:
“Nevertheless the nature of the Gospel tradition means that we cannot simply take everything recorded in all the Gospels as unquestionably genuine reports about what Jesus said or did in a pre-Easter situation.”4
Given the nature of the material within the canonical gospels, we need to use some type of criteria to make sense of the material and know what is or is not probably historical.
The criteria are themselves not foolproof and the use of some continues to be hotly debated whereas others are widely accepted. Generally, it is believed that multiple criteria need to be applied before we can come to a reasoned conclusion. We cannot just rely upon one criterion.
Furthermore, at the end of the day, we really cannot be certain. We can only speak in terms of probability and not certainty.
All of these points are conveniently ignored by apologists such as Dr Costa and they often speak about the Historical Jesus research as if it is on their side.
4. Where is the 1st century document which denies that Jesus was God’s son and presents the Islamic Jesus? – easy, there is no such document in existence. Dr Costa is correct, the earliest writings, and the only surviving writings from the 1st century, happen to be the New Testament documents.
But here is the problem: the New Testament documents are not deemed to be reliable by mainstream historical Jesus scholars in what they have to say about Jesus. Therefore, as explained in #3 above, scholars treat these documents critically, having devised criteria to ascertain as best as possible the authentic and inauthentic details within these writings. These reconstructions of the historical Jesus are not to be found in any ancient Christian document, whether from the 1st or later centuries.
Once these documents are treated critically, we frequently get a picture of Jesus which is most removed from the evangelical view of Jesus and closer to the Muslim view of Jesus, even if not 100% identical. Typically, while there are disagreements over matters of detail, the below components are frequently observed in historical Jesus reconstructions:
• Jesus in his historical ministry did not claim to be god, divine, the second person of the trinity or “more than a man”
• Jesus was looked upon as God’s Prophet and he presented himself as God’s messiah – though what type of messiah continues to be debated by scholars
• Jesus restricted his preaching to the Jewish people / he confined his activity to Israel (quoting Ed Sanders)
• Jesus did not bring about a new religion
• Jesus is unlikely to have preached that he would die and be raised back to life
• Jesus was an observant Jew and did not overwrite the law; at most, he intensified some aspects of the law
• Jesus was a miracle worker / was accused of being a sorcerer
• Jesus preached repentance and the kingdom of God
• Jesus had disciples
There are many diverse reconstructions of the historical Jesus. But, frequently, the historical Jesus reconstructions are more similar to the general Muslim outline of Jesus than they are to the evangelical Jesus. In fact, the latter is very thoroughly and routinely dismissed again and again by historical Jesus scholars.
Consider James D. Tabor as an example. He is a very controversial scholar and Muslims would immediately reject a number of things he has to say about the historical Jesus. But Tabor’s reconstruction of the historical Jesus is still, broadly speaking, more similar to the Islamic view as is readily acknowledged by him:
“Muslims do not worship Jesus, who is known as Isa in Arabic, nor do they consider him divine, but they do believe that he was a prophet or messenger of God and he is called the Messiah in the Quran. However, by affirming Jesus as Messiah they are attesting to his messianic message, not his mission as a heavenly Christ. There are some rather striking connections between the research I have presented in The Jesus Dynasty and the traditional beliefs of Islam.The Muslim emphasis on Jesus as messianic prophet and teacher is quite parallel to what we find in the Q source, in the book of James, and in the Didache. To be the Messiah is to proclaim a message, but it is the same message as that proclaimed by Abraham, Moses, and all the Prophets. Islam insists that neither Jesus nor Mohammed brought a new religion. Both sought to call people back to what might be called “Abrahamic faith.” This is precisely what we find emphasized in the book of James. Like Islam, the book of James, and the teaching of Jesus in Q, emphasize doing the will of God as a demonstration of one’s faith. Also, the dietary laws of Islam, as quoted in the Quran, echo the teachings of James in Acts 15 almost word for word: “Abstain from swine’s flesh, blood, things offered to idols, and carrion” (Quran 2:172)
… there is little about the view of Jesus presented in this book that conflicts with Islam’s basic perception.” 5
And this is the case we often encounter when examining other scholarly reconstructions of the historical Jesus.
5. The Quran is reliant upon Apocryphal Sources – This is a much outdated argument which is seldom made by modern Quranic scholars – except for the polemically inclined such as Dr Costa. In the last century, many non-Muslim scholars – who just so happened to be mostly Christians – envisaged the Prophet (saw) to have encyclopaedic knowledge, with a treasure trove of Jewish and Christian writings at his (saw) disposal – both canonical and apocryphal – from which he (saw) was actively “copying” different stories, giving them twists in accordance with his (saw) taste. Subsequent studies have disproved this hypothesis.
There are similarities as well as many differences between Quranic stories and parallels found in the canonical and non-canonical Jewish and Christian writings. There are no actual quotations and citations in the Quran from any Jewish-Christian writing. The closest similarity in wording is to be found in three tiny sentences:
A. “We have written in the Psalms after the reminder that ‘My righteous servants will inherit the earth.” – al-Anbiya 105 – compare with Psalms 37.29: “The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.”
B. “And God spoke directly with Moses.” – an-Nisa 164 – compare with Exodus 20:1:”And God spoke all these things to Moses, saying…”
C. “Indeed, those who have denied our revelations and rejected them arrogantly – the gates of heaven shall not be opened for them and they shall not enter paradise until the camel passes through the eye of the needle.” – al-Araf 40 – compare with Matthew 19:24: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
How is it that if Muhammad (saw) had so many documents at his disposal, that only in three small areas he (saw) decided to retain some similarity with the wording of his (saw) sources and didn’t bother to quote anything else? In the words of Prof. Griffith, there is a “…virtual non-existence of the text of the Bible in any of the Quran’s biblical reminiscences.” 6
On the contrary, scholars now tend to argue that the Quran was the very first Arabic document – the first book in Arabic. Stories about Jesus and stories about Biblical prophets were floating around orally during the time of Muhammad (saw) in his (saw) immediate environment. People knew about these stories orally. The Author of the Quran knew these stories and used them by “rectifying” them – correcting them and retelling them so as to say, “this is what really happened / this is how it actually happened.”
In his recent book, Prof. Sidney H. Griffith writes:
“For the past century or more, many Western scholars have studied the Bible in the Quran, looking for its sources and the presumed influences on its text in both canonical and non-canonical, Jewish and Christian scriptures and apocryphal writings. Most often they declared the Quranic readings to be garbled, confused, mistaken, or even corrupted when compared with the presumed originals. Most recent scholars, however, some more sensitive than their academic ancestors to the oral character, as opposed to a ‘written-text’ interface between Bible and Quran, have taken the point that the evident intertextuality that obtains in many places in the three sets of scriptures … reflects an oral intermingling of traditions, motifs, and histories in the days of the Quran’s origins.” 7
“The Bible is both in the Quran and not in the Quran. That is to say, it has virtually no textual presence, but the selected presence of an ‘interpreted Bible’ in Islamic scripture is undeniable. And the selection process involved in the inclusion of biblical reminiscences in the Quran, according to the hypothesis advanced here, is one determined by the Quran’s own distinctive prophetology … And what is more, the Quran is corrective of, even polemical toward the earlier the earlier readings of the ‘Scripture People’ …” 8
From a purely secular perspective, where we a priori dismiss the possibility of revelation and miracle, when faced with similarities and differences between two or more sources, we can only reach these type of explanations:
• text A copied from text B;
• text A and B are reliant upon the same source – oral or written;
• stories were circulating orally and used by multiple groups, ending up in different written sources
If two sources contain the same stories, whether with some differences or not, then there has to be an underlying explanation for this. Either a textual dependency between documents – with scholars debating the direction of this textual dependency – or both documents being reliant upon the same source, both documents reliant upon oral traditions or a mixture of the two etc.
So in our case, the Quran mentions Jesus, Moses and David. The stories within the Quran about these and other prophets are similar to stories found in Jewish and Christian writings – with differences as well. How do we explain this? Secular historians who are a priori dismissing the possibility of revelation can only offer a variety of natural explanations, some more convincing than others.
This doesn’t cause any problems for Muslims. We believe that certain events did occur. These were recorded – in varying levels of accuracy – in written sources and circulated orally. God then gave a revelation to Muhammad (saw) and related the actual stories, what really happened, confirming the truth and negating the false elements in the stories of all the Prophets, from Adam to Jesus. Hence the similarities and differences between the Quran and parallel stories in Jewish and Christian writings.
The view proposed by most scholars such as Prof. Griffith, therefore, does not in any manner “negate” the Muslim belief or cause any “problems” for Muslims.
6. Prof Khalidi states that the “Muslim Jesus” is meta historical, he is not even a historical person, the Quranic Jesus is an argument, it has nothing in common with the Jesus of the gospels, in fact, he says that the Muslim Jesus is a “Muslim creation,” he is an artificial creation, he is “meta historical” – he is not even a historical person– Firstly, so what if this is Prof. Khalidi’s view? Dr Costa is more than happy to dismiss mainstream Historical Jesus studies and mainstream New Testament studies for the sake of his historically dubious evangelical Jesus, then why should Ahmad be concerned about the view of Tarif Khalidi? Surely, there are many more Christians who have objectionable things to say about Dr Costa’s view of the Bible than Muslims who say objectionable things about Ahmad’s view of the Quran.
Secondly, Dr Costa seems to have misunderstood Tarif Khalidi. Prof. Khalidi’s book is about the stories of Jesus in later post-Quranic writings from the second / eighth century to the twelfth / eighteenth century. Prof. Khalidi states:
“In referring to this body of literature, I shall henceforth use the phrase “Muslim gospel.” 9
It is this “Muslim gospel” which is labelled by Prof. Khalidi as “meta historical”:
“…the Muslim gospel assembled here has the advantage of a certain impact and novelty. Here is a Jesus who is on the one hand is shorn of Christology, but who on the other is endowed with attributes which render him meta-historical and even, so to speak, meta religious.” 10
Prof. Khalidi is not referring to the Quran. He is referring to the “Muslim gospel” i.e. post-Quranic writings from the second / eighth century to the twelfth / eighteenth century.
Prof. Khalidi writes:
“… the Jesus of the Muslim gospel takes on an identity quite different from the one found in the Quran, the Quranic Jesus remains an important basis of his later manifestation.” 11
So the “Muslim gospel” and the Quran and two different writings – the former being the label given to a wide range of post-Quranic stories about Jesus.
Moving to the Quranic presentation of Jesus, Prof. Khalidi says:
“The Quranic Jesus is in fact an argument addressed to his more wayward followers, intended to convince the sincere and frighten the unrepentant. As such, he has little in common with the Jesus of the Gospels, canonical or apocryphal.Rather, the Quranic image bears its own special and corrective message, pruning, rectifying, and rearranging an earlier revelation regarded as notorious for its divisive and contentious sects. The Quranic Jesus issues, no doubt, from the “orthodox” and canonical as well as the “unorthodox” and apocryphal Christian tradition. Thereafter, however, he assumed a life and function of his own, as often happens when one religious tradition emanates from another.” 12
Indeed, the Quranic Jesus is unique, with points of similarities and differences from all writings – canonical and non-canonical. It emanates from canonical / non-canonical tradition as the Author interacts with these traditions, arguing and presenting what He deems to be the correct view of Jesus.
As explained in #5 above, this sort of explanation is perfectly valid from a purely secular perspective. It causes no “problems” if one believes in the Quran as the Word of God, who confirmed accurate details about Jesus – preserved in a variety of written and oral sources – and who dismissed and denied the inaccurate and inappropriate elements of the Jesus story. This explains the differences and similarities between the Quranic retellings and parallels in other documents.
7. Quran gets the Trinity wrong and asserts that Mary was part of the Trinity? – not so according to modern non-polemical scholarship. The Qu’ran nowhere spells out the Trinity in 5:116. It does not mention the Trinity’s contents. In other words, the Quran does not state, “The Trinity consists of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; they are not three gods but one God.”
Rather than referring to the Trinity, or to a “deviant” formulation of it, the Quran presents an eschathological interrogation of Jesus in which his divinity and that of his mother is denied. Now we know that Christians do worship Jesus as god. We also know that not only in the past did some groups elevate the status of Mary, but that the largest group of Christians, the Catholics direct worship towards her as “mother of God.” From the Quranic perspective, this IS akin to the worship of two of God’s creatures besides Him.
Therefore, the Quran is only stating how these acts are viewed/seen/looked upon by its Author – God.
David Thomas explains that this passage is:
“…a denial that Jesus and Mary are equal with God, and a warning (q.v.) against making excessive claims about them. Thus, it can be understood as an instance of the warning against the divinization of Jesus that is given elsewhere in the Qur’ān and a warning against the virtual divinization of Mary…” 13
The verse is to be understood as:
“… a warning against excessive devotion to Jesus and extravagant veneration of Mary, a reminder linked to the central theme of the Qur’ān that there is only one God and he alone is to be worshipped …” 14
This is also confirmed by Sidney Griffith, who writes:
“Surely the standard Christian proclamation that Jesus is God, the son of God, and Mary his mother, is the mother of God, would have been sufficient to elicit the Qur’an’s adverse judgment.” 15
It is equally plausible that the Quran intentionally simplifies the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus to expose its weakness when analysed from the strict monotheistic perspective of the Quran.
This is how non polemicist western academics are reading the Qur’an. Very different from the misreadings of the polemical authors such as Dr Costa and friends.
8. The Gospel of John and Historical Jesus scholars – Dr Costa likes to mention Historical Jesus scholarship now and then. But he does not inform people that the Gospel of John is deemed to be a highly unreliable source to know about the historical Jesus by mainstream New Testament scholars. Even scholars who attempt to make some use of the fourth gospel acknowledge that it is a highly interpretive account of Jesus. There are many conservative scholars who have made such acknowledgements and a sample of conservative scholarship can be viewed here:
For now, I just present the view of one of the most prominent Historical Jesus scholar:
“It is impossible to think that Jesus spent his short ministry teaching in two such completely different ways, conveying such different contents, and there were simply two traditions, each going back to Jesus, one transmitting 50 per cent of what he said and another one the other 50 per cent, with almost no overlaps. Consequently, for the last 150 or so years scholars have had to choose. They have almost unanimously, and I think entirely correctly, concluded that the teaching of the historical Jesus is to be sought in the synoptic gospels and that John represents an advanced theological development, in which meditations on the person and work of Christ are presented in the first person, as if Jesus said them. “16
Again note: mainstream scholarship has to be dismissed again and again by Dr Costa and friends.
1. Catherine M. Murphy, The Historical Jesus For Dummies, 2007, John Wiley & Sons, Indianapolis: Indiana, p. 178.
2. Christopher Tuckett, Christology And The New Testament: Jesus And His Earliest Followers, 2001, Edinburgh University Press, p. 24.
3. John P. Meier, “Reflections on Jesus-of-History Research Today,” in James H. Charlesworth (Editor), Jesus’ Jewishness: Exploring the Place of Jesus in Early Judaism, 1996, The American Interfaith Institute, New York: The Crossroad Herder Publishing Company, p. 100.
4. Christopher M. Tuckett, Christology and the New Testament: Jesus and His Earliest Followers, op. cit., p. 203.
5. James D Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty: Stunning New Evidence about the Hidden History of Jesus, 2006, HarperElement, pp. 287 – 288.
6. Sidney H. Griffith, The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the “People of the Book” In The Language of Islam, 2013, Princeton University Press, p. 91.
7. ibid p. 56.
8. ibid p. 95.
9. Tariff Khalidi (Editor & Translator) & Edward W. Said (General Editor), The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature, 2003 Edition, Harvard University Press, p. 3.
10. ibid p. 45.
11. ibid p. 6.
12. ibid pp. 16-17.
13. EQ, Vol. 5, p. 370.
15. Sidney H. Griffith, The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam, 2007, Princeton University Press, p. 29.
16. E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure Of Jesus, 1993, Penguin Books, pp. 70-71.
and Allah knows best.