In the blog posts thus far on Islam we have noticed Islam’s confusion with—we might even say deliberate misrepresentation of—the Trinity and the Sonship of Jesus Christ. Next, we address Islam’s view of the Incarnation.
Quite simply, Islam denies the Incarnation. Indeed, the Incarnation is inconceivable for the Muslim. The elements of the doctrine of the Incarnation are missing in Islam. (1) Islam teaches that there is only one divine person—Allah. Therefore, there is no other divine person who can become incarnate. (2). The very idea that Allah or God or a divine person could become a man is abhorrent to Islam. The concept of voluntary humiliation on the part of the Son of God is beyond a Muslim’s comprehension (3). Islam denies that Allah has a Son—it denies that Jesus is the Son of God. If He is not the Son of God, He cannot become incarnate. (4). If someone else (let’s say, Gabriel or some other creature) could assume flesh, that is, could become incarnate, it would not accomplish anything—for the Incarnation to be a saving work of God, the One who becomes incarnate must be very (true) God.
Islam agrees with Christianity on this point: there was a man called Jesus. But so different is the description of the “man called Jesus” that we simply cannot identify the Qur’an’s Jesus (Isa) with the biblical (true) Jesus.
In Islam, Jesus was a prophet or a slave of Allah, whom Allah created. “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). Yet the Qur’an also teaches a virgin birth:
He [the angel] said, ‘Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.’ She said, ‘How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?’ He said: ‘So (it will be) the Lord saith, ‘This is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’: it is a matter (so) decreed.’ So she conceived him, and retired with him to a remote place (Surah 19:19-22).
Absent from the narrative of the birth of Jesus are all the tokens of Christ’s humiliation, for in Islam Allah’s favored prophets do not experience humiliation, which will become an issue when we discuss Islam’s view of the sufferings of Christ and the cross. The Qur’an denies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in a stable, and laid in a manger, and depicts Mary giving birth alone (Joseph is not mentioned) under a palm tree.
When Mary presents her son to the people of her city, they accuse her of sin. “O Mary! Truly a strange thing hast thou brought! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!” (Surah 19:27b-28). Notice, by the way, that the Qur’an’s Mary is a sister of Aaron (of the tribe of Levi), and not a daughter of the tribe of Judah, and of the lineage of David. In her defense, Mary points to her baby, whereupon the baby speaks from the cradle to vindicate his mother!
I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!’ (Surah 19:30-33).
The Jesus of the Qur’an performs miracles, albeit “by Allah’s leave”:
And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, and appoint him a Messenger to the Children of Israel (with this message): ‘I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave, and I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a sign for you if ye did believe.
One miracle stands out here, because it is not in the Bible. The miracle by which Jesus gives a clay bird life is found in the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is a spurious gospel account and not part of the canonical Scriptures. Mohammed, however, must have come across it in his contact with heretical Christian sects (see also Surah 5:110).
For all of the respect and honor the Qur’an bestows upon Jesus (Isa), Islam denies that Jesus is anything more than a prophet, messenger, servant or slave of Allah: “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).
That is an interesting statement. Why would the Qur’an make reference to Mary and Jesus eating food? To the Muslim mind the fact that Jesus (forget about Mary for the moment, because Christians do not suggest that she is divine, but remember the confusion of the Qur’an in Surah 5:116) ate food proves that He could not be divine. God does not eat food. You see the “logic” of the Qur’an’s argument: (1) God does not eat food. (2) Jesus had to eat His daily food. Therefore, (3) Jesus cannot be God. Such an argument betrays a fundamental misconception about the Incarnation.
Quite simply, when Christians confess the Incarnation of the Son of God, they teach that the Son of God took upon Himself a human nature. They do not teach that He turned into a man—He did not cease to be God. He remained God while adopting a human nature. Part of adopting a human nature is the necessity to eat daily food. In fact, if Jesus had not had to eat daily food, we would have to conclude that He was not a true man. Jesus ate food both before and after His resurrection to prove that He was a true man. And He performed miracles to prove that He was true God.
The issue of the Incarnation is this—was the man (who had to eat His daily food) also God? To that question we turn next time, DV.
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.