طراحی سایت

Theology in Islam and Christianity

Written by: Esmail Hemmati

Published on: September 15th, 2019


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Holy Trinity, depicted by Szymon Czechowicz (1756–1758).

Introduction

A comparative study of theology in Islam and Christianity is extremely difficult not only because of the sensitivity of the subject in these religions but also due to the complexity of theology itself.  Knowing that people have different capacities in understanding theological arguments, it is impossible to lead every readers’ mind to a clear conclusion through the labyrinth of logic in these few lines or pages at most. I endeavor to present the topic as simple and brief as possible. This of course will be evidential from the Scriptures of both faiths. Despite the differences in some theoretical and practical aspects, both religions share a great deal of commonality such as believing in One Omnipotent creator of cosmos, the day of judgement, the prophets, morality, justice, and so on. Both the Bible and the Qur’an make a great deal of monotheism. The real serious differentiation between these two is the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ deity (and of the Holy Spirit’s), which is strictly rejected in Islam; that is the same fundamental belief in Judaism where it is not permissible to associate any deity to any other than God. The first three laws given to Moses (pertaining to the oneness of God, prohibiting worshiping anything beside Him and being respectful to His name) demonstrate the importance of monotheism in Judaism; consequently Christianity differs from Islam and Judaism in defining the uniqueness of God.

In a world where theism could not be mocked more, in a world that attracts the minds of so-called modern nations to everything except the faith in one God, in a world that deism, atheism and polytheism have become proud ideologies, we must appreciate the true value of common theological views in monotheistic religions. In fact, the greatest and the most important point of intersection in these religions is holding a strong faith to the One Creator who is eternal, omnipresent and omnipotent; the one who has planned the universe to be where it supposed to be and continues to lead it. We must keep in mind that for the sake of mankind all theological differences have to be discussed in a scholarly level with wisdom and logic; fairness and justice must be the guidelines in reflecting opinions of the opponents. A wrong word of a single learned man is capable of misleading a nation for generations, similarly a wise and courageous decision to accept an opponent’s right argument can guide generations to truth. With this short introduction, I present a brief overview in the following lines of the theological commonalities and differences between Islam and Christianity.

 

A General Definition of God in the Bible and Qur’an

Philosophers and scholars have different opinions in defining God. This is closely related to the human limitations in understanding metaphysical matters and has had a major initiative role in disputes and deviations. Abrahamic religions, however, agree on this simple and general definition of God: “God is a real nonmaterialistic being, self-sufficient, creator and sustainer of the universe. He is omnipresent and omnipotent, unlimited and eternal, gracious and just.”

The differences appear in the definition when they try to apply the theology and God’s role to the creation. For instance, in Old Testament we read that God walked on Earth, talked with Abraham face to face, ate food (Genesis 18), wrestled with Jacob through the night and even couldn’t beat Jacob (Genesis 32:24)[1]. The New Testament presents God with much complexity and difficulty. In short, He becomes a man, Incarnated, called the Son of God; He exhibits Himself in three divine beings: Father, Son and Spirit; the Son is sent to become a sacrifice for the original sin, by accepting the horrifying death on the cross; the salvation of mankind depends on accepting this phenomenon. In contrast, Islam prohibits associating any physical characteristic to God, not even allows calling him “Father”. This is because Islam is extremely strict in defining God as a unique and unimaginable spiritual being and there is absolutely nothing similar to Him. In another word, if God appears in a form, any form, He has to be limited and changeable; this is far from His characteristics as a unique, omnipresent, needless, self-sufficient and eternal being. Therefore, these three Abrahamic faiths differ in some characteristics but share the basic definition of God.

 

God in the Bible

The most famous and commonly accepted statement about God in the Bible is known as “Shema”, that is “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (NIV, Deut. 6:4) The Gospel of Mark reads that Jesus had also stated the verse word by word (Mark 12:29). The Bible contains numerous verses assuring the Oneness of God, more than the capacity of this paper. Just to be evidential, we read a few examples.

God is not visible (although it contradicts the foretold stories of Abraham serving food to God and Jacob wrestling with Him.)

  • Exodus 33:20 (English Standard Version)

But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”1 John 4:12 (English Standard Version)

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

  •  Gospel of John 1:18

No one has ever seen God, the only God; but the one who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.[2]

 

God is not man, neither a son of man, no one has heard his voice and Jesus is His messenger:

  • Numbers 23:19 (English Standard Version)

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

  • John 5:37 (English Standard Version)

And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen.

 

Is Jesus God?

Christology is the major source of ideological separation of Muslims and Christians. Although other differences such as salvation, necessity of the Laws of the Old Testament, and believing in the prophet hood of Prophet Muhammad pbuh and the Quran played important roles on distancing them, but certainly if these two can reach a common ground on identity of the Christ, the rest would be just a matter of choice rather than apprehension. The core importance of Jesus’ identity in interfaith discussions between these two religions makes us probe the case carefully with the Bible.

In the Bible, Jesus is called: a prophet and messenger of God (Mathew 13:57, Mark 6:4, Luke 13:33, John 17:3), a servant of God (Mathew 12:18, 20:28, Acts 3:13, 4:27), smaller than God (John 14:28), lesser important than the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29), and a son of man (Mathew 8:20 and 15:18). He has emphasized the fact that God is the God of all including him (John 20:17, Revelation 3:11-12). He prays to God (Luke 5:16, 10:21, John 17:11); even cries for help to be saved from death (Mathew 26:39, Mark 1:35, Luke 22:44). He rejects to be called “good” saying that only God is “good” (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19). He confesses for being unable to do anything on his own (John 5:19, Luke 8:28). He did not know everything (Mark 11:12-14, 13:32). But why do Christians call him God? Do they have any scriptural evidence for their claim?

There is an occasion in the Bible where Jesus makes himself one with God (John 10:30); in another place, he states that seeing him is like seeing God (John 14:9); some even called him “God”. What has been ignored about these verses is the context of the statements. Studying the passages in their full length affirms the prophet hood mission of the Christ. When Jesus called himself one with God, he emphasized his strong faith in God and his divine mission, not that his identity is divine. The reason that being one with God, in Jewish tradition, does not mean being equal to God is given in other explanatory statements in the Bible. For instance, in the Gospel of John 17:20-23, Jesus explains what means to be one with God. It clearly demonstrates that being one with God can be obtained by anyone who believes in God. This is a part of Hebrew culture portraying a faithful lifestyle of people who ignore their worldly desires and unite themselves with the spirit of God by following His message.

Concerning the occasions where Jesus is called God, we should be aware of two facts: first, that Jesus did not call himself God but assumingly some others called him so. Secondly, the phrase used for God in these cases, which is “kirious”, is very different with the word used for the Almighty God: “Theous”. Kirious means “sir” or “master” and it is used as a title of respect for men. Nowhere in the Bible is the word “Theous” used for Jesus.

The last and foremost important verse of the Bible used often by Christians in proving Jesus’ divinity and the doctrine of Trinity is John 1:1, where it is translated: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.[3] Such a translation has caused severe struggles for Trinitarian Christians in explaining logical and theological arguments. Some newly born sects, such as Jehovah Witness, reject the accuracy of this interpretation of the verse. They claim that the translation is done purposefully wrong to support the Trinitarian view.

If Jesus is “God incarnate”, why has he himself never claimed so? Why has he even rejected to be called “good”? Why has he called himself a messenger and a servant of God many times but not even once has he mentioned his deity? Why has he raised the status of the Holy Spirit higher than himself if he is equal to God? Why did he not know when the fig tree gives fruit? Why is his second coming not known to him? These are all difficult questions to answer if we believe that Jesus is God. To justify these verses, the Christian scholars, use arguments such as “dual identity of Jesus” (fully human and fully God), humility, subordination, and so on. Nevertheless, the more they explained, the less it convinced the intelligent minds. How can one be a perfect man and a perfect God simultaneously, yet not know the season to which the fig tree bears fruit?

 

God in the Quran

Reflecting the enormous amount of Quranic information about theology in the inadequate capacity of this paper is undoubtedly impossible. Volumes and encyclopaedias are written on the matter; that eliminates a necessity of an effort to explain concept of God in the Quran. I will though mention few short words on what I believe have not been often outlined. The Quran is a leading scripture in encouraging mankind to pursue intellectual and innate sense of theology through contemplation and cerebration in the Quran, previous scriptures, and the creation. I personally have not known any book as persistent on monotheism as the Quran.

The Quranic theology relevant to Christianity can be summarised in a few verses. Chapter 112 or Ikhlas (also known as Tawheed, meaning Monotheism) revealed to the Prophet of Islam in an answer to the question proposed by some other believers on the definition of God. The first verse of the chapter perfectly reflects the “Shema” of the Old Testament and what Jesus also stated. It reads: “Say: He is the One God.” The chapter continues with prohibiting associating any human/physical characteristics to God: “He is the self-sufficient. He begets not, nor was He begotten, and there is none co-equal unto Him.” Trinity and deity of Jesus and his mother[4] are firmly rejected in the Quran (4:171, 5:17, 72, 75,117 and 9:30). At last, the Quran invites the people of the book to monotheism and prohibits idolatry and worshiping a man (3:64).

I end my word with a prayer and wish for all to revert to the original teachings of the prophets and to lighten up the darkness of idolatry and polytheism with the light of the One God.


[1] Some Old Testament scholars believe that this verse had to be translated to: “A mighty man wrestled with Jacob”, because Elohim (translated to: God) also means “mighty”.

[2] John 1:18 has been translated purposefully in many versions and languages. As such, many translations of the verse portray Jesus himself as a God and “the begotten son of God”. Furthermore, the phrase “begotten son of God” is a Johanan term that has never been used in any other synoptic Gospels (Mathew, Mark and Luke), although it carries a very important role in Christianity.

[3] “The word was God” in Greek manuscripts is written differently. It says: “The word was from God”.

[4] Some Catholics worship Mary as the divine mother of “the Son of God”.

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