How to assess the Divinity of Jesusas?
Farhan Iqbal, Canada
Most Christians today believe that God is one being in three persons. This is a fundamental bone of contention between Muslims and Christians. This contention largely surrounds the person of Jesusas.
In simple terms, the question is: Was Jesusas divine or human? If he was divine, then the religion of Islam is completely false but if he was human, then the doctrine of the divinity of Jesusas – or the Trinity – is completely false.
The Holy Quran affirmatively takes the stance:
“The Messiah, son of Mary, was no more than a Messenger. All Messengers before him have passed away. And his mother was righteous. Both of them used to eat food. See how We explain the Signs for their good, and see how they are turned away.” (Ch.5: V.76)
The Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, has refuted the concept of the divinity of Jesusas extensively in his book, Kitabul Bariyya, wherein he lists three main criteria – or means to guidance – for seekers of truth regarding any set of beliefs:
1. Use the book of God
2. Use reason, if the book of God cannot be understood
3. If not satisfied by reason, Divine signs should make the seeker content
(Kitabul Bariyya, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 13, p. 49)
The Promised Messiahas then goes on to explain how belief in the divinity of Jesusas is proven false through these criteria. He writes:
“Reflection shows that the Christian faith is bereft of all these three qualities. Its method of comprehension of the Divine is so strange that neither the scriptures of the Jews nor any other heavenly book has taught it. As for the testimony of reason, it is enough to point out that the more the Europeans become acquainted with dialectical methods, the greater becomes their mockery of Christian doctrines … As regards the heavenly signs, if all Christian clerics were to beseech Jesusas for a heavenly sign throughout their lives, they would not be given any, as Jesus is not God …” (Kitabul Bariyya, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 13, p. 53-54)
Thus, the Promised Messiahas has explained that Muslims cannot accept the divinity of Jesusas because, first, it is not mentioned in the books of God; neither the Torah nor the Quran mention anything about the divinity of Jesusas.
Second, belief in a divine Jesus is basically a belief in a divine human which is an oxymoron or self-contradictory. A man is defined as a being with many limitations and weaknesses, while God is a Being without any limitations or weaknesses. Hence, God cannot be man and man cannot be God. To state otherwise is to state something illogical.
Third, praying to Jesusas as a God and asking him for a sign does not yield any results. God is the only One Being Who has always shown signs to His servants. No other being has ever done so. In this day and age, it is the Promised Messiahas who has shown many signs to the world and those signs have been shown by God alone.
In other words, both the books of God and sound reasoning refute any idea about a divine Jesusas. If these two means of investigation tell us that Jesusas is not divine, an honest researcher can then proceed to research numerous Divine signs that have been shown by the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa as well as the Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas and form his or her own conclusion about where the truth lies.
Understanding the Bible
If a Muslim dialogues with a Christian with the above points in mind, the first reaction by most Christians acquainted with the Bible would be to show references from the Bible which provide evidence that Jesusas is divine from their perspective. As a result, it is important for Muslims to understand what the Bible entails.
First and foremost, it should be noted that the Bible cannot be seen as a single book. A misconception about the Bible that the average Muslim may have is to assume it to be a “Holy Book” like the Holy Quran. This could not be further from the truth.
While the Holy Quran is a single book revealed to the Prophet Muhammadsa over a period of about 23 years and put together into a single volume immediately after his death, the Bible is a compilation of many books written over many centuries by many authors.
From a Protestant Christian perspective, the Bible is divided into two major portions. The first part is called the Old Testament made up of 39 books and the second part is called the New Testament made up of 27 books. Comparatively, Catholic and Orthodox churches add some other books to the Old Testament and place them in a different order.
It is also important to note that secular scholars have lately started using the term “Hebrew Bible” to refer to the Old Testament in order to avoid the theological implications of using the word “Old” to refer to books which non-Christians and even some branches of Christianity may not consider as such.
In contrast, the Jews call their Scriptures the Tanakh – abbreviated from the first letters of the three main parts of the Jewish Bible:
1. Torah or Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy)
2. Neviim (Prophets)
3. Ketuvim (Writings)
The Tanakh also orders the books in a way different from the Protestant Old Testament. As such, there is no single “Bible” or “Old Testament” common for Jews and Christians. Overlaps exist, but the differences in order of books and their content are significant, not to mention the various interpretations of Jewish and Christian sects of the same texts.
The New Testament on the other hand begins with four Gospels, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These names are assigned to the books by Church tradition. None of these books are signed by the original authors, which is why there is no definitive way to know that they were indeed written by these individuals. Just like many other books in the Bible, they have been written anonymously.
The four Gospels are the most important books of the New Testament because they are specifically about Jesus’ life, teachings and experiences up to the crucifixion.
Their original language of composition was Koine Greek which was the language in use at that time in the Roman Empire. An indicator of this is the fact that their citations of the Old Testament are taken from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) known as the Septuagint. Jesusas and his disciples, however, did not speak Greek as their language of communication was Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew.
In terms of composition, scholars who have looked into this in depth have come to believe that the Gospel of Mark was written first and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written later as revisions of Mark. Nowadays, most scholars believe that Mark was written between 65-70 CE, Matthew written around 80-85 CE and Luke around 85-90 CE.
The Gospel of John does not copy passages from the other Gospels and was written much later, dated around 90 to as late as 110 CE.
This brief overview of the Bible should help Muslims understand what the Bible refers to and how it compares to the Holy Quran. Keeping these points in mind can help Muslims hold dialogue with Christians in a more fruitful way. It can also deepen a Muslim’s understanding of the way passages are quoted from the Bible in books of the Promised Messiahas and Khulafa-e-Ahmadiyyat.