The Motive Behind the Muslim’s Claim, and How the Muslim Views Jesus.
Muslims claim that they believe in Jesus. They praise him as a prophet of God, as sinless, as “the Messiah,” as “the Word of Allah” and as “the Spirit of God” (see Koran 3:45). The Muslim might even quote from the Koran confirmation of his belief in Jesus, “And we gave Jesus, Son of Mary, the clear signs, and confirmed Him with the Holy Spirit” (Koran 2:87). However, one shouldn’t fall into believing that the Muslim believes in the same Jesus that Christians do. He believes, for example, that Jesus was only one of God’s prophets or messengers, and not God’s only begotten Son. Thus, the Muslim rejects Jesus being the Son of God. They also reject that he was God incarnate and also see him as inferior to Muhammad since it was Muhammad who brought God’s final revelation to man. And most remarkably, in the face of overwhelming historical evidence, they deny that Jesus was ever crucified on a cross. However, for our purposes here, we find that Muslim apologists often argue that Jesus never said, “I am God.” For if Jesus did then he is asserting that he is more than just a man, and cannot be truly conceived as being the prophet the Koran says he was. How should one reply?
The Koranic View of the Gospels.
Now, we want to have a look at what Jesus says about himself in the gospels. But we will also want to see how Koran itself views the gospels since it is within them that we find Jesus’ words and self-concept. The Koran tells us that it was Allah who “sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong)” (3:3; emphasis mine). The Koran also says that Jesus and the gospel was sent by Allah, “We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah” (5:46).
Thus, the very Koran itself says that the gospel is God sent, in fact, it calls it both “guidance and light.” This means that the Muslim has to both accept what Jesus says about himself and what he does within the gospel accounts. So let’s turn to the gospels.
Why Jesus Deliberately Did Not Directly Claim to be God.
Firstly, by putting Jesus within his 1st century milieu we find that it would not have made sense to his followers and audiences if he directly claimed to be God. This is because 1st century Jews were monotheists; they only believed in one God, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD.” (Deu. 6:4). These Jews believed that it was blasphemous for people to worship anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). So, if Jesus was straight out direct in his claim to be God it would have come across as asking his followers to believe in two gods, the God of Israel and Jesus. That there are three persons in the Godhead, the Trinity, is a Christian theological doctrine and not a Jewish one; Jews had no concept of this. Further, how might have gentiles, who were already polytheists themselves (belief in many gods), have received this? It would have been consistent with their polytheistic beliefs and that would have countered Jesus’ mission of actually saving man from separation from God. So, there are good reasons as to why Jesus never directly stated, “I am God.” However, that doesn’t save the Muslim.
Jesus Implies His Divinity & Equality with God.
Firstly, Jesus forgave sins. According to Jewish belief only God could forgive sin (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh. 9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with a proper sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus’ forgiving of sins is him effectively saying that he is the Temple in person. When Jesus healed the sins of a paralytic son some of the Jews accused him of blasphemy (Matt. 9:1-7). To them it was clear that the forgiving of sins was only reserved for God to do. Moreover, who other than God could forgive sin? No-one because it is sin that separates man from God. And given this it would follow that no man could stand in God’s place in order to pardon the personal sins of human beings; but Jesus does just this. Thus, obviously Jesus’ intentional efforts in having authority over the forgiving of sins gives us a clear illustration of who he thought he was: no other than God in nature and essence.
Jesus then, given John’s testimony, makes some lofty claims (ones that the Muslim has to accept Jesus made), for example, he claimed that, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). That is as good a claim to divine equality with God as we’ll get, and the Muslim has to be able to explain this away since his Koran says he must accept the claim. In fact, the Jewish reaction to Jesus’ claim is illuminating, “You, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). They understood exactly what Jesus was claiming; he was claiming to be divine and equal with the God of Israel. He was claiming to be the same in nature and essence. We also have Jesus’ remarkable claim, “I tell you the truth… before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). This time the Jews who heard him took up stones to kill him for they believed he was committing blasphemy (Lev. 24:16). This was another self-identification with God where Jesus was equating himself with the “I AM” title God gave himself in Exodus 3:14.
Thirdly, according to gospel testimony, Jesus never rebuked those who worshipped him. If Jesus thought that he was just a human prophet he would have convicted them of committing blasphemy. In other words, Jesus accepted their worship. Most illustrative is the disciple Thomas who worshiped Jesus saying “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Jesus responded with commendation rather than condemnation. Perhaps the most powerful demonstration of this is in Jesus’ self-application of the Son of Man title found in Daniel 7:13 of the Old Testament. The title “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favourite way to describe himself. In Daniel 7 the Son of Man rides the clouds which, in the Hebrew scriptures, is something that only God does or something foreign gods are described as doing (Ex. 14:20; 34:5; Num. 10:34; Ps. 104:3; Isa. 19:1). In other words, this human figure is unique in his possession of characteristics that reflect the transcendent divine. Scholar Witherington pens that this shows “Jesus as the Anointed One, the Christ, [the one who] represents both God and man” (1). Thus Jesus’ use of the title “Son of Man” would suggest that he thought of himself as more than just a human. He thought that he would judge the world on the last day, receive worship, and who will rule for eternity in heaven.
The Islamic Catch 22.
So, given the gospel testimony it is quite clear that Jesus thought of himself as more than just a human being. He accepted worship and forgave sins; things only God could do. He also claimed divine equality with the one true God. The problem for the Muslim, however, is that the Koran urges him to accept these claims. It’s a bit of a catch 22 for the Muslim. Why? Because Jesus’ exclusive claims, his concept of God, and his self-concept clashes with the Koran and Muhammad himself, but the Koran informs the Muslim that the gospel is “guidance and light.” But as soon as he accepts the gospel then Islam cannot be true. Allah cannot therefore be said to be the one true God and Muhammad cannot be said to exceed Jesus. So, if the Koran is correct then Islam must be false. We will consider this argument further in an additional article.
1. Witherington, B. Did Jesus Believe He Was the Son of Man? Available.