Contradictions in Qur'anic Christology
There are already many articles available on WikiIslam about contradictions and errors in the Qur'an concerning logic, history, mathematics, cosmology and many more subjects. In this article, however, we would like to describe a quite different kind of weakness of the Qur'an which we will refer to as a lack of theological professionalism.
Even if we overlook the errors in the Qur'an, it is still surprising that the author of this holy book in some cases looks like somebody who cannot make the right use of quotations from Christian literature for his own argumentation. This will be shown by the example of the Christology in the Qur'an.
In this approach, the Qur'an, the Bible and any other text mentioned are regarded as texts written by human beings, not by God. Also, the intention is not to decide which of the opinions concerning the nature of Jesus are true or untrue. Instead we will focus on the quality of the arguments rendered in the Qur'an.
From this viewpoint, we will elaborate the Christological opinions of the Qur'an compared to the Bible and show how they are expressed.
The Qur'anic Standpoint on Jesus as a human being
There can be no doubt that the Qur'an does not accept the Christian position that Jesus Christ was the Son of God or any Incarnation of God at all. From Surah 19 it becomes clear that to regard Jesus as Son of God is one of the worse sins according to Islam.
From these quotations it becomes very obvious that the Qur'an strongly opposes Christian Christology according to which Jesus was the Son of God. Moreover, there are further suggestions that Jesus was nothing more than a messenger:
Here the Qur'an clearly refers to Jesus as a messenger of Allah, which means one of the prophets and a human being.
We can also state that there is nothing special about this assertion since the Jews share this standpoint. It is also a well known fact from the New Testament that there have always existed people who regarded Jesus in this manner.
In the Gospel of Mark and the corresponding verses of the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and Thomas 13 (an apocryphal gospel) it is well documented that there have always been people who regarded Jesus as nothing more than a prophet:
They told him, "John the Baptizer, and others say Elijah, but others: one of the prophets."
Nevertheless, the Qur'an is full of warnings and polemic against anybody who violates against the Qur'anic rule not to put anybody else on Allah’s side. It is impossible to quote all theses verses because there are so many of them and their amount is much more than anything else concerning Jesus.
In the following chapters, we will see that in fact all of this information about Jesus in the Qur'an derives from Christian sources with only little differences and almost no additions.
First surprise: Jesus is the Messiah and was born of a Virgin?
However, surprisingly, and in stark contrast to the Jewish belief, the Qur'an recognizes Jesus as messiah:
This fact is of great importance since the term "Messiah" is just the Hebrew translation of "Christ" (the anointed one). Thus, we can begin to talk about a Qur'anic Christology. However, it does not necessarily mean that Jesus is the son of God, like most Christians believe.
The reason is that the term Messiah has many different meanings in Judaism and Christianity. Jewish people usually refer to a Messiah as the promised king, prophet or religious leader of Israel, the one who leads the Jewish people out of oppression. In Christianity - on the other hand - the word has become almost a synonym for the son of God in whom all promises are fulfilled.
But what kind of messiah is the Qur'an talking about? A Jewish king? A Jewish prophet? The Christian redeemer? To be honest, the fact that the Qur'an calls Jesus a Messiah does not necessarily imply that he is or has ever been the son of God; however, it can easily lead to confusion and misunderstandings.
If Jesus is the Christ, as asserted in the Qur'an, why is it then so strictly forbidden to call him Son of God as well? And how can a Muslim criticize Christians for their belief if they do accept that Jesus was the Christ? Last but not least we must ask in what way the term Messiah serves the Islamic idea that Jesus was only a human being. In other words: Is it useful in any manner for the authors of the Qur'an to accept that Jesus was the Christ?
Moreover, the sentence contradicts itself regarding the fact that a messiah is indeed more than only a messenger. In all the three monotheistic religions a messiah is supposed to play a dominant role in apocalyptic speculations.
We also know from all the three synoptic gospels, that the apostle Peter, who later became the first leader of the Christian church, was also the first to confess that Jesus was the Christ. Without any doubt, this was an important milestone for Christianity:
This appears to be the first inconsistency in the Qur'anic argumentation. If somebody does not agree that Jesus was more than a prophet then it cannot be useful to recognize him also as Christ because it leads to confusions and misunderstandings. But why does the Qur'an use this term then? The answer is that the author clearly does not understand that there are many meanings and sophisticated concepts behind the word Messiah.
Let us now have a look to the birth of Jesus, which is extensively referred to in Surah 19 (Maria). According to this record, the Qur'an accepts the Virginity of Mary, which is also being described in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It should be noted that this story cannot be found in the gospels of Mark and John and that there are many scholars who do not believe that this story can be considered as a historical fact. There are also assertions that a translation error - the word "young woman" was mistranslated to virgin, which is very likely in Greek - let many early Christians imagine that Jesus was born by a virgin.
So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place.
But what was the intention of this old legend? Of course, nothing else than to point out that Jesus was the son of the Holy Spirit. So why must the Qur'an reproduce this old Christian legend in an only slightly altered version? If Jesus is no more than a prophet then it would have been much more comfortable for the author to ignore this subject or to write a quite different version which should express that there was nothing special about the birth of Jesus.
Instead, the author of the Qur'an looks like somebody who cannot distinguish between historical facts and old legends. This is not too surprising for common people of the middle ages. However, we can expect more even from an ancient scholar and regarding the claim that the Qur'an was written by the almighty God, this is really astonishing.
Qur'an states Jesus was the Word of Allah
And there is more. In Surah 4:171 Jesus is also clearly referred to as Word of God.
For several reasons, this assertion is very problematic for the Islamic standpoint on Jesus. At first, the expression "word" which is obviously quoted from the Gospel of John 1:1, has a much more sophisticated meaning than known by the author of the Qur'an. The term logos in Greek means much more than "word". It means also "logic" or the highest principle of the universe, also known as god. Moreover, according to John 1:1 Jesus himself is regarded as the incarnation of this "word" or principle.
. . .
The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1.14)
It has to be pointed out, that this Christian concept derives from the Hellenistic philosophy which asserts that the origin behind all things can be found in the logos.
However, it seems obvious that the author of the Qur'an is not aware of this much more sophistical meaning of "word", otherwise he would have avoided this expression which is highly dangerous for the argumentation, that Jesus is nothing more than a human being.
And, do not many (if not all) Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the word of God too?
So if the intention of the author of the Qur'an is nothing else than to describe Jesus as a speaker or messenger it is definitely not recommended to confirm that he is the word of Allah.
Did Jesus create living Animals?
But there is an even more obvious example which reveals the lack of Christological understanding and theological professionalism of the author of the Qur'an.
In Surah 3:59 Jesus is described as equal to Adam (who is also called prophet in the Qur'an) who was made from dust.
This hints also to the genesis of the Old Testament. But why, then, does the Qur'an also refer to the story of the young Jesus, who formed birds from clay in 3:49?
It must be noted, that this story obviously derives from an old apocryphal account of the childhood of Jesus, called the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, also known as "The Second Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ":
2. And having made soft clay, he fashioned thereof twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when he did these things (or made them). And there were also many other little children playing with him.3. And a certain Jew when he saw what Jesus did, playing upon the Sabbath day, departed straightway and told his father Joseph: Lo, thy child is at the brook, and he hath taken clay and fashioned twelve little birds, and hath polluted the Sabbath day. 4 And Joseph came to the place and saw: and cried out to him, saying: Wherefore doest thou these things on the Sabbath, which it is not lawful to do? But Jesus clapped his hands together and cried out to the sparrows and said to them: Go! and the sparrows took their flight and went away chirping. 5 And when the Jews saw it they were amazed, and departed and told their chief men that which they had seen Jesus do.
This ancient text was probably written in Syria in the late second century or somewhat later, long before the Qur'an. There can also be no doubt about the intention of the text; the Genesis-like creation of birds by the young Jesus has to underline the identity of Jesus and God. Therefore, it serves the Christian idea of Jesus as the Son of God and not the Islamic idea that he was just a prophet.
Interestingly, the infancy-gospel, which was never recognized by the official Christian churches, circulated in Syria for many centuries. Thus, it is not unlikely that the Christian monk Bahira, who is regarded as a teacher of the young Muhammad in eastern Syria, told him also this story about Jesus.
So it is not unlikely as well that Muhammad knew the story from childhood from Bahira. Later, when the Qur'an was written, he may have remembered the story, but he did not understand that this apocryphal record contradicts the Qur'anic Christology.
And it is even more astonishing, that the Qur'an renders this record in a very close neighborhood to the account of the creation of Adam.
So let us summarize it again; In the same surah, almost on the same page, the author of the Qur'an lets Allah and Jesus perform the same miracle with the only difference that the young Jesus did not create a human being but a small bird. Is this really intelligent if the author wants us to believe that Jesus is not the Son of God?
Again, the author of the Qur'an looks like somebody who has no idea of what he is talking about.
Gnostic Teachings in the Qur'an?
Now we will refer to Surah 4:157 where the Qur'an claims that not Jesus, but somebody else was crucified.
Where is this information derived from? It is not unlikely that it also came from Bahira who may have quoted gnostic sources which he might have had access to. Indeed, there are many old gnostic scriptures which claim that not the Christ himself but somebody else (like Simon from Cyrene) was crucified. Many of the most interesting gnostic texts belong to the Nag Hammadi collection, which was discovered in 1945.
The Christology of many of these texts is quite different from the recognized canonical tradition and even further away from the Qur'anic standpoint.
One of the ancient gnostic texts of the Nag Hammadi collection is "The second Treatise of the Great Seth", which may have been written at the end of the second century. Thus, it was written long before the Qur'an. Here is a quote:
There are indeed many other gnostic texts which share the idea of docetism and that Jesus Christ was not crucified at all. In the Nag Hammadi collection alone we have around ten different sources representing the same point of view. Moreover, Irenaeus, an ancient churchfather, refuted all these gnostic views as heretic at the end of the second century, thus confirming their early existence.
In fact the idea that Jesus was the logos and a copy of God also has strong ties to gnosticism. It is even possible that this idea derived from gnosticism first. The problem here is that typical gnostic texts regard Jesus in a docetical manner which means that Jesus was no real human being at all, a pneumatic being, a fleshless copy of God.
Interestingly, the greek term "doceo" can be translated with "to seem" or "to appear as" which is also expressed in Quran 4:157. Therefore, it is indeed very likely, that the author of the Qur'an drew this words from ancient gnostic texts.
But how does this correspond to the central Islamic teaching that Jesus was a human being and not the son of God? The answer is quite easy; it does not fit at all.
Jesus was raised to Heaven, raised the Dead - and more confusions
Whether he was truly crucified or not, Qur'an, gnosis and the canonical Christians all well agree in the concept that Jesus was raised to heaven.
According to Surah 5, Jesus was even able to raise the dead. There is also confirmation that he received the holy spirit, made a bird from clay and performed further miracles like healing a born blind and lepers. (Quran 3:49)
Of course, there is the limitation in the Qur'an, that Jesus performed the miracles with the permission of God. However, the author does not understand that it would had been much more suitable to his intentions not to recognize any of the miracles. He obviously did not understand that these records were written for theological purposes; they have no historical backgrounds at all. Thus, the author looks to us like a theological layman who does not realize that miracle stories have only a symbolic meaning.
Later, in the same Surah the author clearly proves that he does not even understand the very basics of Christian theology; the members of the Trinity:
Here it is asserted that the trinity consists of God, Jesus and Mary. However, this never belonged to any Christian teaching. In fact, the Christian trinity consists of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And these are not different gods, but only different aspects of the one and only God.
But the Qur'an confuses us even more. While he recognizes the existence of the Holy Spirit, he is also denying the existence of the Trinity.
At first, there seems to be no logical contradiction or error if we consider that the existence of the Holy Spirit is possible without the Trinity. But if we imagine that both are sophisticated Christian concepts (like logos and messiah as well), then it becomes very surprising that the Qur'an still makes use of it.
So the only difference between Christian and Qur'anic Christology is that the Qur'an opposes a few Christian concepts (Son of God, Trinity) while it agrees with the others. However, we do not find any Christology in the Qur'an which can be called exclusively Qur'anic, nothing new, nothing original.
As stated in the beginning of this article, there is no intention to decide which of the different standpoints on the nature of Jesus is true or not true. Thus, nobody says that it is bad to disagree with the Christian Christology like the Qur'an does.
However, after having shed some light on the Christology of the Qur'an, we must now admit that the author of the Qur'an performs his job poorly and does not look very professional.
On the one hand, he strongly opposes the Christian teaching that Jesus is the Son of God and claims that he is just a prophet or messenger and nothing more.
Then on the other hand, he does not provide any details or facts to support his own theory. Instead, by confirming many fundamental Christian thoughts the author of the Qur'an contradicts himself.
How can Jesus be nothing more than a prophet, if he is also the Messiah, born by a virgin, the Word of God and a creator of living animals who also performed many miracles like healing people from blindness and leprosy?
Moreover, the author of the Qur'an confuses the reader by borrowing from the biblical, apocryphal and gnostic sources. It seems that he tries to create something different from the Bible, however, it ends up as a chaotic mess without any order.
Finally, the author of the Qur'an approves by his own records that he does not understand at all what he is writing about. He has no grasp of fundamental Jewish and Christian concepts like Messiah, Logos, Trinity and Genesis.
Is God a bad theologian?