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Is Jesus the Incarnation of God?

Question and answer details
Stuart Kenny
2014/11/27
I am a Christian who is very interested in Islam. Although it is said that Islam denies the Incarnation of God in Jesus, there are many modern theologians—Tillich, Rahner, Kung—whose understanding of the Incarnation would seem, at face value, to be compatible with the Muslim understanding of Jesus. Muslims always seem to talk about fundamentalist Christian ideas, but I've never seen a Muslim addressing more "liberal" theologians. Would modern formulations of the Incarnation, such as those proposed by Marcus Borg or Bishop John Spong, be compatible with Islam? Is not the Qur'an itself an "incarnation of the Word"? And when the Qur'an calls Jesus a "word" and "spirit" of God, isn't that suggesting that Jesus is of the same divine essence of God, in that God's Word and Spirit must partake of God's divinity? And, remember, there is no place in the Qur'an which calls Jesus merely human—he is given titles which place him above other prophets, not the least of which is his virgin birth—he comes directly from God. I'm not sure that I would need to change any of my current beliefs to become a Muslim. Indeed, I believe I am surrendered to God already, and that my ideas of Incarnation are in no way shirk, but are compatible with both the Qur'an and the Gospel. So, I want to ask what you think.
Nabil Haroun
Answer

Salam (Peace) Dear Brother,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

To properly understand the nature of Jesus, one has to resort either to a divine source or to what Jesus himself declared and emphasized. It can be proved that the Quran is the word of God remaining intact as revealed.

In contrast, it can be proved that both the Old Testament and the New Testament are not divine but human writings, and so are the writings of modern and liberal theologians.

Islam emphatically asserts that there is no deity but Allah. The Quran abounds with explicit statements of this fact that leave no room for re-interpretation or twisting the meaning in any direction. As an example, take this verse, which may be translated:

{Allah is He besides Whom there is no god, the Ever-living, the Self-subsisting by Whom all subsist; slumber does not overtake Him nor sleep; whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His; who is he that can intercede with Him but by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them, and they cannot comprehend anything out of His knowledge except what He pleases, His knowledge extends over the heavens and the earth, and the preservation of them both tires Him not, and He is the Most High, the Great.} (Chapter 2:255)

Similarly, both the Old Testament and Jesus’ words in the Gospels confirm the Islamic concept of pure monotheism. Following are a few examples:

  • Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14)
  • You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them (Exodus 20:1-5)
  • Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve.’” (Matthew 4:10)
  • “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one (Mark 12:32)

Jesus also asserts his humanity:

  • “As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.” (John 8:40)
  • “By myself I can do nothing: I judge only as I hear.” (John 5:30)
  • “But in vain they do worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9)

Referring to Jesus as a “Word” of Allah is an expression of the Will of Allah in creating him in the womb of Virgin Mary without a father, by the word “Be”. The same Divine Command is applied to Yahya (John the Baptist) in the Quran, when Allah talks about Yahya who was born from a very old lady who was not capable of bearing children, which means:

{So We responded to him and gave him Yahya and made his wife fit for him; surely they used to hasten, one with another In deeds of goodness and to call upon Us, hoping and fearing and they were humble before Us.} (Chapter 21:90) :

Adam the father of humanity was created from dust, as is confirmed in the words that mean

{Surely the likeness of `Isa is with Allah as the likeness of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, Be, and he was.} (Chapter 3:59)

Are these references to Adam and John the Baptist any different from the same descriptions of Jesus? In other verses we read what means:

{When the angels said: O Maryam, surely Allah gives you good news with a Word from Him (of one) whose name is the Messiah, `Isa son of Maryam, worthy of regard in this world and the hereafter and of those who are made near (to Allah).} (Chapter 3:45)

{O followers of the Book! do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, `Isa son of Maryam is only a messenger of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Maryam and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His messengers, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one Allah; far be It from His glory that He should have a son, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, and Allah is sufficient for a Protector.} (Chapter 4:171)

The word "spirit" in this verse is a reference to the Willful power of Allah in creating the fatherless Jesus. The more miraculous creation of Adam, without father or mother was also a "spirit’" from Allah. Could one claim that Adam, and hence all humanity, was an incarnation of God for that same argument?

Similarly, the Gospels portray Jesus as a human man in all respects:

  • On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus (Luke 2:21)
  • “The son of man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a gluttonous man…’” (Matthew 11:19)
  • Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)
  • One of those days, Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. (Luke 6:12)
  • Jesus wept (John 11:35)

The Quran esteems Jesus, yes, but Ibrahim (Abraham) and Musa (Moses) are given even higher esteem. There is nothing to imply that Jesus is anything other than human.

To conclude, the incarnation of God in Jesus is incompatible with the Quran, as well as with what Jesus himself proclaimed and stood for. Other tenets of current (man-made) Christianity, such as the Divine sonship of Jesus, Trinity, Crucifixion, original sin and vicarious atonement, are all strongly rebutted by Islam. You cannot amalgamate Islam and Christianity in any self-consistent framework.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Useful links:

Is Jesus God?

Does God Have a Spirit?

Did Jesus Claim that He Is God?

Why Muslims Don’t Accept Jesus Divinity?

Jesus: the Inspired Teacher (Folder)

 

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