Is Jesus God? (Q&A)

This set of questions provides insight into Muslim thinking about Jesus as the Son of God.  Parts of the original e-mail have been edited for clarity.  

Q1:  [The first e-mail began with many Bible verses indicating that Jesus is different than the Father, or stating that he is a servant of the Father or less than the Father, such as:]

John - Chapter 14
28:  …for my Father is greater than I.

John - Chapter 13
16: Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.  20: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

John - Chapter 17
3: And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

John - Chapter 12
44: Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. 45: And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.

[Others include John 7:28,29; Luke 21:41-43; Luke 6:12; John 17:23; John 15:1-5; John 14:1-7.  The writer then continues:]

If the "Son" [was] created by the "Father" then he would not be "God," because he is created (or limited).

If the "Son" has not [been] created, then he is not a son, but the "Father" or the same as the Father.  <Or say both "are" one person! >

If the "Son" is separated ("begotten") from the "Father," then it means the "Father" is divided in two and "changed" (neither of them would be unlimited anymore ... ).

Surely you cannot both believe in the first to the third commandments of the Ten Commandments and believe that Christ is God simultaneously (else, you deceive yourself!)…

[Other verses follow under the topic,] "Christ," "Word of God" [including Psa. 33:6, Luke 24:19, 1 Pet. 1:23, John 17:17, John 1:14, etc.  This is then followed by quotes from the Quran, the Muslim holy book:]

Sura 4 : 171
O people of the book! do not transgress the limits of your religion and do not say about God except the truth. The Messiah Jesus the son of Mary was a messenger of God and His word that He had sent to Mary and a spirit from Him. Therefore you shall believe in God and His messengers. You shall not say Trinity. You shall refrain from this for your own good. God is the only god. Be He glorified; He is much too glorious to have a son. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. God suffices as Lord and Master.

Sura 3 : 45
The angels said O Mary God gives you good news: a Word from Him whose name is The Messiah Jesus the son of Mary. He will be prominent in this life and in the Hereafter  and one of those closest to Me.

Sura 5 : 17
Certainly disbelievers indeed are those who say that God is the Messiah the son of Mary. Say Who then could control anything as against God if He will to destroy the Messiah son of Mary  and his mother and everyone on earth? To God belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and everything between them. He creates whatever He will. God has power over all things.

--Mohammad I.

A1:  Thank you for your e-mail.  It seems that you have done a lot of research into the teachings of the Bible. 

From the verses you quote, it is easy to see why the Christian teaching about Jesus being God can seem confusing if not false.  How can Jesus be God, yet be different from the Father, since there is only one God?  How can Jesus be God when he says that he is a servant or messenger of God and is less than the Father? 

The answer to this mystery requires us first to establish one point.  How can we know anything about God?  Is God what man imagines him to be, or is he what he is inside of himself?  And if God is what he is inside of himself, how can any man know what this is?  The answer is surely that man cannot know what God is inside of himself unless God reveals that to us, because as the Bible says, no man has seen God (John 1:18).  Man can know nothing about God except what God reveals to us.   

For example, when we say that God is one, how do we know this?  We know this because God has revealed himself to Abraham and many others in the Bible as one God, and has revealed that the many gods of the pagans are false.  But what do we mean when we say that God is one?  We mean that he is not many.  Does this mean that we now know what God is inside of himself?  No, we only know what God has revealed to us, that he is one.  I believe that every Muslim can agree with me on this point. 

So has God ever revealed what he is inside of himself?  The prophets sometimes use curious language to tell us about God.  For example, the prophet Isaiah often speaks about the "arm" of the Lord:  "Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, with his arm ruling for him. Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him" (Isa. 40:10). 

What is this arm of God, and how can it rule for him?  Surely God does not have a physical arm, since God is Spirit, and is not physical (John 4:24).  So some imagine that the "arm" of God is simply a way to talk about God's strength or power. 

But then, what is the meaning of these verses:  "Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; he has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to him.  He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, he was despised, and we did not esteem him" (Isa. 53:1-3).

If the "arm" of God simply refers to God's strength or power, how can it grow up before him?  How can it have an appearance that we can see?  How can it be referred to as a man?

Or what about this verse?  "The LORD has bared his holy arm In the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God" (Isa. 52:10).  How has God revealed his "holy arm" in such a way that all nations have seen it?  And how does this show us his salvation?  What is the salvation of God that is revealed by his "holy arm"? 

The Christian belief is that through many prophecies of this kind, God is revealing to us who he is inside of himself, and how he communicates with us.  It seems that he, who cannot be seen directly, communicates with us through a spiritual extension of himself that is sometimes called the “arm” of the Lord, and sometimes the “word” of God, as well as by many other mysterious names in the Bible.  Through this "arm" of the Lord, the God who is beyond space and time is able to reach into space and time in a way we can see and hear to communicate with us and do his will.

Some deny that God could have a spiritual extension of himself in this way.  But should man tell God how he may or may not be?  Is not God the all powerful, the almighty, who is able to do whatever he wants according to his own will? 

Some object that this extension of God (sometimes called the "word" or "speaking ability" of God [the Greek word logos in the New Testament means both “word” and “speaking ability”]) is separate from God himself.  But is the word or speaking ability of an ordinary person separate from that person?  Is my word or speaking ability separate from me?  But if God has a word/speaking ability, it is obvious that this is part of who God is.  Just as in the image of Isaiah, the arm of God is obviously a part of God.  But if, on the other hand, the word/speaking ability of God is outside of God, then God has no word or speaking ability and has become a mere object like a stone or piece of wood that cannot think or speak.  

Many have misunderstood the Christian teaching about the Word of God.  For example, they imagine that Mohammed is speaking against our belief when he says that God has no son.  But actually, Christians agree that Jesus is not the carnal offspring (walad in Arabic) of the Father.  When we say that Jesus is God's Son, we are referring to the spiritual extension of the Father (the “arm” of God), who was joined to human flesh in Jesus.  The flesh of Jesus is created by God and is a son of God in very much the same way that all men are sons of God.  So in this sense, Jesus is a servant and a creature of God.  Yet because this flesh was joined to the "arm" or "word" of God, Jesus is a Son of God in a very special way: he is a unity of God (the "arm" of God; his divine nature) and man (his human nature).  

To many people, this joining of God and man in one person seems like a strange idea.  It may even seem to violate the created order of God.  Yet Jesus taught that God's will is for all who believe in him to be joined together with God in a similar way:  "That they may all be one, even as you, Father, are one with me, and I am one with you, that they also may be one with us; that the world may believe that you did send me" (John 17:21).  In other words, Jesus came to reveal this incredible plan of God to the world:  that God created us so that we could be one with him in much the same way that Jesus himself is one with the Father. 

We fail in this created purpose when we sin, and cut off our relationship with the Father.  But through Jesus we can be restored to our true calling to be sons of God. 

Q2:  [A second, follow-up e-mail was entitled, “Why is the blood of Christ clean?”]

"Christ" = "Messiah" = "Massih" in Arabic.  The origin of "Massih" is "Ma sa ha" = "anoint" (clean). "Massih" means "one who is anoint[ed]."  Sometimes it is translated as "anointed," but this is wrong!  "Massih" had no sin from the beginning that needs to be "anointed" from it!  But how!?

A2:  In your second e-mail, you mentioned the word "Messiah," which is related to the word "to anoint." Anointing in the Bible was not used for sin.  Oil was poured out to prepare for ministry, as when priests were anointed for ministry (Ex. 28:41).  It is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  The anointing of Jesus took place at his baptism, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on him (Luke 3:22).  This publicly prepared him for ministry.  Jesus did not do any miracles or healings until after he was anointed in this way.

Q3:  [A third e-mail was entitled:] Birth of "Christ"

Although Christ became human, he is a "Word of God" and a "Spirit" from him, too (Quran sura 4:171).  When was he born, really!?  What does "Word of God" mean!?  First there should be somebody in order to say something (a word).  In John 1:1 [it says:] "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

I think something here was misunderstood and mistranslated in the past. I think it was [that the] "Word was (from) God." It said "in the beginning" (at first - talking about TIME) which refers to the beginning of the "creation" (through God's Word), because God has no beginning for he has "always been"!)...

God is both "creator" and "not created" (--> God is unlimited --> "One").
So, making any "image" or "idol" (= flesh) of God is not correct.
As in [sura 5:11], Christ is the creator but he is also created. (A word is created by the one who is speaking.)

If I want to be honest about what the "Word of God" means exactly, then I should say: "I CANNOT understand"!

--------- About Jesus’ first coming:  [Here follow Luke 24:19, Quran sura 3:59, and Luke 21:41]

-------- About the "blood":

[sura 4:157]
And for claiming that they killed the Messiah Jesus son of Mary the messenger of God. In fact  they never killed him they never crucified him-they were made to think that they did. All factions who are disputing in this matter are full of doubt concerning this issue. They possess no knowledge; they only conjecture. For certain they never killed him.

[Here follow Quran sura 3:55, 19:29,33; and Luke 24:7]

Although [Jesus] died and resurrected, if he was not crucified, then what does the "blood" refer to (in the scripture, especially in prophecy)? When did it happen?  I think it refers to his "blood" (on his last night) mentioned in the Bible itself, which dropped on the "stone" [in the Garden of Gethsemane].

There is no mention about the event and what happened in the Qura'n.  Maybe it was somebody else who was crucified, as when God provided a substitute to Abraham for his son - perhaps an angel in human flesh (?)  (I am astonished why the Vatican is so loyal to the story of the crucifixion and its symbolism!!!)
[Here follow Luke 22:42-45, Quran sura 5:110, and Mark 14:34-42, and John 7:33-34.]

A3:  In John 1:1, "the beginning" can refer both to the beginning of the creation and to the time before creation.  As I mentioned above, the "Word" mentioned here in the original Greek is logos, which means word and speaking ability.  In the beginning, the word/speaking ability of God was both with God and was God.  This word/speaking ability is therefore not created.  But later, the word/speaking ability of God was projected or extended out or sent from the Father to communicate with man, both in the prophets (1 Pet. 1:11), and later to be joined to flesh in Jesus. 

You are correct that making any image or idol of God is wrong.  Unfortunately, some Christian groups have allowed themselves to be misled into doing this. 

It is not clear whether Mohammed himself believed that Jesus was crucified.  It's important to remember that in the time of Mohammed, there was a debate in the Christian world, in which many had begun to accuse the Jews of killing Jesus, and to persecute them, even though the New Testament clearly teaches that it was the Romans who killed Jesus.  So there was a debate between different Christian and Jewish groups as to whether the Jews killed Jesus.  These are the "factions" in the sura you mention (sura 4:157). In the original context, Mohammed is clearly referring to the claim that the Jews killed Jesus.  But since, as I said, it is actually the Romans that killed Jesus, and not the Jews, Mohammed is correct to say, "For certain they [the Jews] never killed him." 

If we say that Mohammed means that Jesus was never crucified at all, who were the "factions who are disputing in this matter" and "full of doubt concerning this issue?"  In the time of Mohammed, the entire world, which was largely a Christian world, was in agreement that Jesus had been crucified.  There were no large factions debating this topic.  So this interpretation, which is very common in the Muslim world today, does not match the time in which Mohammed was living. 

The death of Jesus on the cross is extremely important to the Christian faith, because Jesus died as an atonement (a sacrifice) for sin.  This is how we receive forgiveness for our sins.  If Jesus did not die, then there is no forgiveness for sins.  But because of his death for us, we can be forgiven. 

Even in this horrible experience of crucifixion, Jesus was protected by God, because he was raised from the dead.  In the same way we, even if we suffer for him, will be raised from the dead.  Jesus said that not even a hair of our heads will perish (Luke 21:18). 

(For more on this topic, see the Index category Jesus.)

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