If you read the Qur’an, you will learn very little about Jesus Christ.
The New Testament presents Jesus as the incarnate Son of God, true God and true man. It records details concerning His birth, His childhood, His public ministry, His miracles and His teachings, and it devotes a lot of attention to His sufferings, His death, and His glorification (especially His resurrection from the dead). The Qur’an, on the other hand, contains very scant details about Jesus. It seems that Mohammed had very limited knowledge (and perhaps no knowledge at all) of the New Testament scriptures. Never does he interact with the New Testament scriptures, for example.
This in itself is striking, for the Qur’an speaks of something called the Injil, which is the gospel: “We sent after them Jesus, the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the gospel [Injil]” (Surah 57:27). “It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went down before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel [Injil] (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the Criterion (of judgment between right and wrong” (Surah 3:3). If the Qur’an itself recommends the gospel [Injil], why is Mohammed ignorant of the gospel, and why does the Qur’an not interact with the clear teachings of the New Testament?
The Qur’an presents Jesus Christ as a creature, as a mere man, who is a prophet or messenger of Allah. Time and time again, the Jesus of the Qur’an denies that he is anything more than a messenger. “Christ the Son of Mary was no more than a Messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make his signs clear to them: yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!” (Surah 5:75). “The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, ‘Be’ and he was” (Surah 3:59). “Christ Jesus the Son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him … far (Exalted is He) from having a son” (Surah 4:171). “They say: ‘Allah hath begotten a Son!’—glory be to Him! He is self-sufficient! His are all things in the heavens and on earth! No warrant have ye for this! Say ye about Allah what ye know not” (Surah 10:68).
The Qur’an clearly rejects the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, but does the Qur’an give any evidence that Mohammed understood what Christianity means by the confession, “Jesus is the Son of God”? Sadly, we have another example of a “straw man fallacy” in Islam’s “holy book.”
Consider these texts from the Qur’an: “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: how can He have a son when He hath no consort? He created all things, and hath full knowledge of all things” (Surah 6:101); “Exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He hath taken neither a wife nor a son” (Surah 72:3). A consort is the spouse of a king or queen. Clearly, the writer of the Qur’an understands begetting a son to require a husband and a wife; and since Allah has not taken to himself a female consort (wife), he could not have begotten a son.
However, Christians do not have any carnal conception of the Sonship of Jesus. This is something that we must explain to our Muslim neighbor when we witness to him. No Christian has ever taught, for example, that Mary is the consort of Allah, or even of God the Father. The Christian church taught in her historic creeds, centuries before Mohammed allegedly received the revelations that make up the Qur’an, what the Bible means when it calls Jesus “the Son of God” or “the only begotten Son of God.” Between 325-381 AD, the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople defined that Jesus is the Son of God in this sense: “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made...” In 451 AD, the Council of Chalcedon defined the orthodox Christian position in these words: “begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead…”
Jesus is the eternal, only begotten, uncreated Son of God.
By the term “Son of God” the Bible does not mean merely that Jesus is like God. The term “Son of God means that Jesus has the same essence as the Father and the Spirit (recall the word homoousion from the last blog post on this subject), the same attributes as the Father and the Spirit, performs the same works as the Father and the Spirit, and receives the same worship as the Father and the Spirit. Indeed, He has the same life as God. In other words, if Jesus is the Son of God, He is God.
The Bible says some wonderful things about the relationship between the Father and the Son: According to Hebrews 1:3, the Son of God is “the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of [God’s] person.” Colossians 1:15 calls Jesus “the image of the invisible God.” John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Another reason why this is difficult to understand is our experience of fathers and sons. Would not God the Father be “older” than God the Son? And if God is the Father of Jesus, does He not need a wife or a consort, in order to “beget a son”? And if God is the Father of Jesus, does that not make God the Creator of Jesus, and does that not make Jesus a creature, like an angel? Many religious groups reject or corrupt the teaching that Jesus is the Son of God with such misconceptions.
First, the Bible is clear that Jesus is the eternal Son of God—which means that He does not have a beginning. He is not younger than God the Father. He is eternal. About God, scripture says, “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God” (Ps. 90:2). About the Son of God, scripture says, “Out of thee [Bethlehem] shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). The Son of God has no beginning or ending. He has no eternal mother, only an eternal Father. He always was. He always is. He always shall be.
Second, the Bible calls Jesus the only begotten Son of God. That term “begotten” needs explanation.
A person might be the son of his father in different senses. A person might be his father’s son biologically—a DNA test would verify the biological parentage. A person might be his father’s son legally—by the act of adoption, a man could bestow the rights and privileges upon one who is not biologically related to him.
Similarly, the Bible uses the term “son of God” in different senses. The angels, for example, are the created sons of God. Jesus is not the created Son of God. Believers are the adopted sons of God. Jesus is not the adopted Son of God.
Jesus is begotten, indeed, only begotten. The verb “beget” describes the activity of a father in bringing forth a son. In begetting a son, a man brings forth one who is of the same being as himself but who is personally distinct from himself. When a human father begets a son, for example, he does not beget a horse or a cat—he begets another human person. Since God the Father is spiritual, He does not beget a physical Son—He begets the Son in an eternal, spiritual act. Within the infinite spiritual being of God, the Father begets the Son, who is the image of the Father, and the object of the Father’s eternal love and delight. And no consort or divine mother is involved.
Thus, the Father brings forth the Son eternally within His own being. Never is the Father without the Son. Never is the Son without the Father. The Bible says of Jesus, “He is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). Let us not have any carnal conception of this great wonder!
Next time, DV, we will explain what we mean by the Incarnation of the Son of God, something about which Muslims have many misconceptions.
This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.