Jesus is a character that is out of place in Islam. When you look at Christianity, the attributes of Jesus make sense in relation to their theology about him. Jesus being born as a virgin and having no father fits well in the claim of Jesus being the son of God. The titles of Jesus don’t make sense in Islam. The stories about Jesus we find in the Quran we have found sources for in ancient Syriac documents.
As an aside, this article will assume that Jesus was a real person who existed. Dr. Carrier has written a book “On the Historicity of Jesus” about the evidence against Jesus existing, and he has made some good points, but for the sake of argument, we will take the position that Jesus was a real historical person who lived and died.
Muslims believe that Islam sets the record straight and corrects the misconceptions about Jesus and all the other prophets, but we have to ask, what is the evidence for this?
The story of Jesus was taken from Christianity in order to make the case for Islam stronger and to appeal to a wider audience.
Before we get into the points, we need to make it clear that the Quran presents a literal truth. For Muslims, the story of Jesus is a literal truth. The Quran has many stories in it. One of the Quran’s claims of its miraculous nature is that it contains many stories that Prophet Muhammad could not have known. It is said that God himself told him these stories:
ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ أَنبَاءِ الْغَيْبِ نُوحِيهِ إِلَيْكَ ۚ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ يُلْقُونَ أَقْلَامَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ يَكْفُلُ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ يَخْتَصِمُونَThat is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you, [O Muhammad]. And you were not with them when they cast their pens as to which of them should be responsible for Mary. Nor were you with them when they disputed. (Quran 3:44)
نَّحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ نَبَأَهُم بِالْحَقِّ ۚIt is We who relate to you, [O Muhammad], their story in truth…
وَكُلًّا نَّقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ مِنْ أَنبَاءِ الرُّسُلِ مَا نُثَبِّتُ بِهِ فُؤَادَكَ ۚ وَجَاءَكَ فِي هَٰذِهِ الْحَقُّ وَمَوْعِظَةٌ وَذِكْرَىٰ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَAnd each [story] We relate to you from the news of the messengers is that by which We make firm your heart. And there has come to you, in this, the truth and an instruction and a reminder for the believers.
So the Quran claims that the Christians made up and modified the books and that over time the Bible was lost. Here is the claim that the Bible was corrupted:
So woe to those who write the “scripture” with their own hands, then say, “This is from Allah, in order to exchange it for a small price. Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn. (Quran 2:79)
Let us examine if Islam provides the correct unadulterated story of Jesus, while the Bible provides the corrupted version.
Adding to history is that there were fewer Christians living in Arabia, many of them being heterodox sects with non-mainstream Christian beliefs. We know that Waraqah bin Nawfal was a type of Christian, a Nestorian priest. He may have been one of the main sources of Christian doctrine coming to Muhammad. When it comes to Judaism, we know that there were many Jews that Muhammad interacted with and lived around. So it makes sense that he would be more familiar with the stories of the Old Testament. In fact, Moses is the most mentioned prophet in the Quran.
Issue 1 – The Injeel (الإنجيل) / Gospel of Jesus (إنجيل يسوع)
Jesus is described in the Quran as having been sent with a revealed book
And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. (Quran 5:46)
We should ask, where is this Injeel?
Well, nowhere to be found. No trace of it. None whatsoever. If God sent Jesus with a revelation, either a book or an oral recitation like the Quran, it’s totally gone. Is it possible Muhammad mistakenly understood the Christian idea of “Injeel” and included it in the Quran? Is it just a coincidence that Islam calls Jesus’s book the gospel (الإنجيل)? It’s hard to believe such a revelation existed and then suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Much less important documents have survived such as the infancy gospel of Thomas, the Dead Sea scrolls and others, yet the entire Injeel of Jesus was completely lost?
So if Jesus did not come with a revealed book called “the gospel”, what exactly is the gospel? Well, there’s not one, but four gospels. The four gospels are considered the inspired word of God written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Little is known about these authors but they were Greek-speaking Christians who 40-100 years after the death of Jesus wrote these books. Christians believe these men were inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak on behalf of God, not that they received verbatim revelation from God (like the Quran claims to be).
Muslim scholars will claim that Jesus had an Oral Injeel that was completely lost.
Issue 2 – Jesus has no father and was born of the Virgin Mary
In Islam, there is no apparent reason why Jesus has no father and was born of the Virgin Mary. Allah simply decided out of millions of babies born every year that he would make one of them without a father. Why did Allah interrupt the process of birth for this one baby out of millions born? Well in Christianity we have a pretty convincing answer. He was the son of God. THAT’S WHY HE HAS NO FATHER. GOD is his father.
Issue 3 – The Virgin Birth was a later Christian idea
The idea of Jesus having a virgin birth – This story does not exist in the oldest gospel – Mark, but actually appears later on in the gospel of Matthew and Luke. When we look at the 4 gospels in order from oldest (Mark) to newest, we see how Jesus goes from barely a hint of being God in Mark to “In the beginning Jesus was God” in John which is the last gospel. If it was clear that Jesus had a virgin birth, why didn’t Mark mention it? Why was it not mentioned until Matthew 70 years after the supposed event?
Issue 4 – Jesus The Messiah
The Messiah is supposed to be a King, to bring peace to the world, gather the Jewish people from their exile to the land of Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem:
And if a king shall arise from among the House of David, studying Torah and occupied with commandments like his father David, according to the written and oral Torah, and he will impel all of Israel to follow it and to strengthen breaches in its observance, and will fight God’s wars, this one is to be treated as if he were the anointed one. If he succeeded and built the Holy Temple in its proper place and gathered the dispersed ones of Israel together, this is indeed the anointed one for certain, and he will mend the entire world to worship the Lord together, as it is stated: “For then I shall turn for the nations a clear tongue, so that they will all proclaim the Name of the Lord, and to worship Him with a united resolve (Zephaniah 3:9, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11:4).
Jesus did not restore peace to earth, become the ruler of the Jews or any such thing. He was supposed to become the King of the Jews. However, his plans to become the Messiah were cut short when he was crucified for making this claim. Yet again we see that this claim fits in the story of Christianity where Jesus was going to become the Messiah, yet doesn’t make a lot of sense in Islam.
Issue 5 – Jesus The Word of Allah (كَلِمَتُهُ)
How about Jesus being kalimatullah, the Word of God (Quran 4:171)? Seems like an odd title to give a prophet, doesn’t it? In John it says
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
So we can see how it fits in here. Jesus is actually God in their theology. Yet Islam again doesn’t give a good explanation as to why Jesus is called Kalimatullah, it really does seem borrowed.
Issue 6 – Jesus The Spirit of Allah (روح الله)
In Christianity, Jesus is connected to the Holy Ghost (Ruh Al Quddus). Why is Jesus the spirit of Allah in Islam? Does it make any sense? Does it fit in the context of Islam?
Issue 6 – The Infancy Gospel stories
Interestingly, certain doubtful stories that were available at the time ended up in the Quran.
What other stories did he include in the Quran that we found?
The story of Jesus making clay birds and making them come alive come from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas which was written mid- to late-2nd century which was written to show more miracles of Jesus.
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. (Infancy Gospel of Thomas)
And the Quran says.
[The Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My favor upon you and upon your mother when I supported you with the Pure Spirit and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and [remember] when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you designed from clay [what was] like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission; and you healed the blind and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from [killing] you when you came to them with clear proofs and those who disbelieved among them said, “This is not but obvious magic.” (Quran 5:110)
The story of Jesus speaking as an infant comes from the Syriac Infancy Gospel, which was written 5th-6th century and was based on the earlier Infancy Gospel of Thomas.
“He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world. (Arabic Infancy Gospel)
And the Quran says,
“But she pointed to the babe. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. (Quran 19:29-34)
Most Christians reject this story as a complete forgery. Interestingly this document was originally written in Syriac (a language similar to Arabic) and available at Muhammad’s time in the 6th century.
In conclusion, Muhammad took the stories of Jesus that were available to him and fit them into the Quran in order to make his message appeal to Christians. However, he got some of the details wrong along the way and included references to doubtful stories.
Further reading/watching material:
- Bart Ehrman here in “Introduction to the virgin birth idea (4min video)”.
- Tom Terry in his article “Where is the Injeel” (Update: He took down his site, but here is an older PDF version)
- See my other articles tagged Jesus
- Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Wikipedia)
- Syriac Infancy Gospel (Wikipedia)
Image: By Andreas Wahra – Own work (own photography), CC BY-SA 3.0 WikiMedia