About a year ago we were sitting at dinner with a friend and we got on the topic of Jesus being the Son of God. Our friend is a Muslim and he brought up what he had been taught was meant by the title “Son of God”. He stated that when Christians call Jesus the Son of God they meant that God had a son the way people do; through natural means. Even though we had heard this before it was still a shock to our senses to hear it put like that. Never have the true followers of Jesus thought of him like that. Never. The Bible certainly doesn’t teach that and anyone who has read the Bible, or even knows a Christian, knows that. So, where did this idea come from?
Lost In Translation
There are several passages in the Quran denouncing Jesus as the Son of God (2:116; 5:17, 72; 9:30; 19:35) but we’re going to focus in on 6:101 as it seems to play a key role in the line of thinking of our friend. Here it is from the Sahih International translation:
[He is] Originator of the heavens and the earth. How could He have a son when He does not have a companion and He created all things? And He is, of all things, Knowing.
The word translated “companion” above should be clear from the context but for the sake of prudence we’ll point out that the way this word is written puts it in the category of “wife” or “spouse”. Here’s a nice visual aid from the Corpus Quran website to round out the point.
Now, this passage does not single out Jesus as being a son in this way, but speaks more broadly as a condemnation of the idea of God having a son at all. To be clear though the Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God does fall under this condemnation. As the well known commentator Ibn Kathir wrote:
Allah mentions the misguidance of those who were led astray and claimed a son or offspring for Him, as the Jews did with `Uzayr, the Christians with `Isa and the Arab pagans with the angels whom they claimed were Allah’s daughters. Allah is far holier than what the unjust, polytheist people associate with Him. (see qtafsir.com on this chapter and verse)
And here’s the bigger picture: the underlying belief in the Quran is that if you say that someone is God’s son then what you mean by that is that God has to take a wife and produce that son in a natural way. This is what our friend had been taught to believe about Christianity. Somewhere along the path from what Jesus, the earliest disciples of Jesus, the Church Fathers, and the Ecumenical Councils all taught about what Son of God meant to the meaning (misunderstanding) we find in the Quran something was lost along the way and a serious error found its way into one of the most influential books in history.
Titles From The Gospels
When we encounter this dilemma we like to ask a simple question: What are we supposed to make of the way we see Son of God used in the Gospels? One of the first places Jesus is called Son is at his baptism when a voice from Heaven says to Jesus “you are my beloved son.” (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:22-23) But it’s not only heavenly voices, even the demons call him God’s Son. Mark 5:7 says, “And crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.'” Even pagan Roman soldiers called Jesus the Son of God at his crucifixion (see Mark 15:39). And finally we see that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of God when he says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) So, what are we to do with the fact that the Father called Jesus Son, demons recognized it, faithless pagans recognized it, and Jesus claimed the title for himself? To put it simply, we call Jesus the Son of God like everyone else in the Gospels. But does that mean what our friend was taught it means?
Christians believe in the eternal preexistence of Jesus as the Son of God. This means that from all eternity Jesus has existed as God, the second person of the Trinity, and was not created at any point. This is presented most clearly in John’s gospel, so we’ll look at some passages and teachings from Jesus to demonstrate where we got this idea from. We’ll begin in John 1 where John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John started his Gospel with Genesis language “In the beginning” and he did it with the intention of demonstrating the eternally divine nature of Jesus. Where Genesis 1:1 starts off by saying “In the beginning God” John starts off with “In the beginning was the Word”. This is a big deal. Right off the bat we’re supposed to be clued in that Jesus is God. Later John wrote “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” More imagery from the Torah! This time John is drawing our attention back to when the tabernacle was erected in the wilderness after God delivered Israel from Egypt. Exodus 40:34 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” In fact the same word that was used to translate “tabernacle” from Hebrew to Greek is the same root word that John used and English Bibles translate “dwelt”. Just as the divine glory filled the tabernacle on earth in the wilderness, so now in John’s gospel is that same glory filling the tabernacle of flesh in the person of Jesus.
Let’s now consider something Jesus said that is recorded in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” This is such a rich text and it’s only one sentence in an even more theologically rich passage! First of all, Jesus shared in God’s glory which is one reason why we as Christians say that God is one in his essence and three in his person (more on that another time). Second, Jesus was with the Father before the world existed. This means that before creation, there was Jesus. Why do Christians say Jesus exists eternally? Because Jesus said it. We like it when things are that simple. And that’s part of the point we’re making here. The Christian belief and understanding about Son of God is very straight forward if you’ve read the most popular Gospel writer in history. What’s concerning to us is that the Quran, though it claims divine authorship, seems to misunderstand or misrepresent this clear teaching.
Finally, for those who might be reading this having been taught and/or believing the teaching of the Quran we need to share a warning with you from the Apostle John (the same guy as the Gospel writer). Early on in Christianity there was a group of people called the Gnostics (and their sister religion the Docetists). They taught that Jesus did not come in the flesh but that the “Christ” was a spirit who took over the body of Jesus at his baptism but departed from him just before his crucifixion. They even went so far as to say that it only appeared that Jesus died (see St. Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 2). But it was against this group that John was writing in 1 John where he wrote, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” To deny that Jesus is the Son is to proclaim yourself an antichrist. Our deep concern is that on the day when Jesus sits in judgement over all the earth (see Matthew 25:31-46) he will look upon those who have fallen prey to the ignorance of false teaching about Jesus and call them “antichrist”. So we proclaim to you good news that “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”
We pray this is beneficial for those who may have questions about this topic. Please contact us with any other questions you may have.