Jesus and the Qu’ran

Over at his blog Blogging Theology, Paul Williams advances an argument that the “christology” of the Qur’an in fact comes closer to what the very earliest Christians believed about Jesus than the patristic affirmation of his divinity. I left the following comment on his blog:

Mr. Williams, because of my ignorance of Islam I cannot comment on the Quranic presentation of Jesus; but I would like to dissent to your claim that the “Christology of the Quran bears a striking resemblance to recent biblical research that has concluded that neither Jesus’ family, nor the apostles, nor his Jewish disciples, believed that Jesus was God. They believed, like Muslims, that Jesus was the Davidic Messiah, but still a human being.” This claim is not supported by the best biblical scholarship, contrary to the idiosyncratic views of Jeffrey Butz, whom you cite.

Butz’s thesis is contradicted by the apostolic practice of worshipping Jesus, as massively documented in the various works of Larry Hurtado (see especially Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity and One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism [new edition]). A high christology emerges quite early in the history of apostolic Christianity. As Richard Bauckham writes in his book Jesus and the God of Israel:

At a very early stage, which is presupposed and reflected in all of the New Testament writings, early Christians understood Jesus to have been exalted after his death to the throne of God in the highest heaven. There, seated with God on God’s throne, Jesus exercises or participates in God’s unique sovereignty over the whole cosmos. This decisive step of understanding a human being to be participating now in the unique divine sovereignty over the cosmos was unprecedented. … It is this radical novelty which leads to all other exalted christological claims of the New Testament texts. But, although a novelty, its meaning depends upon the Jewish monotheistic conceptual context in which the early Christians believed. Because the unique sovereignty of God over all things was precisely one of the two major features which characterized the unique identity of God, in distinction from all other reality, this confession of Jesus reigning on the divine throne was precisely a recognition of his inclusion in the unique divine identity, himself decisively distinguished, as God himself is, from any exalted heavenly servant of God. (pp. 20-21)

Once this incorporation of Jesus into the divine identity occurs, then the patristic doctrine of the Trinity becomes logically inevitable.

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11 Responses to Jesus and the Qu’ran

  1. thank you for your comments. I would tend to agree with the incisive critique of Hurtado et al to be found in JDG Dunn’s book,

    http://www.amazon.com/Did-First-Christians-Worship-Jesus/dp/0664231969

    Btw the answer is NO.

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  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    In response to my comment, Williams cites James Dunn’s book Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? It’s all too easy at this point to fall into the game of competing scholarly authorities. I know Dunn’s early work, particularly his book on the Spirit and his book on New Testament christology. Dunn has a particular antipathy to creedal Christianity, which I believe informs his scholarship (but of course the accusation can be equally raised against all who disagree with him). All I can do is reference Larry Hurtado’s review essay of Dunn’s book.

    As I just commented on Williams’s blog: “Christians may, of course, be wrong in their confession of the divinity and Lordship of Jesus Christ; but I deem implausible proposals that the confession of the divinity of Christ is a late development and invention of the 2nd century Church.”

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  3. jews don’t believe god can become a man and hence, reject jesus as messiah and argue the christians distort this…muslims don’t believe god can have sons. the problem is that most current trends (save for the more conservative scholars ranking in the extreme minority of like, 20% at best), hold an adoptionistic christology. adela yabro collins and her husband john j. collins both have a response to hurtado, bart ehrman, paula fredriksen, john dominic crossan, etc.

    current trends in scholarship are generally in agreement with judaism, hardly christianity, and islam is out of the question…unless you’re talking about resurrection ideas. to which some still argue that jesus had a doppleganger. i *wish* biblical studies could be less complicated than you make it out to be here. i wish that *all* areas in relation to the social sciences, anthropology, philosophical anthropology, historical studies, theology, and religious studies could be this simple.

    but alas, i leave this comment with the following words of wisdom…
    ecclesiastes 1:18 – For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Yes, our lives would sure be a lot easier if scholars would stop disagreeing! 😀

      If we have learned anything from 150 of historical-critical biblical scholarship it’s that its “assured results” will almost always evaporate with the next generation of scholars—and not necessarily because new literary and archaeological discoveries have been made but because the scholars are assessing the scarce evidence from different ideological and political commitments.

      My personal opinion is that while biblical scholarship may inform, and even critique, one’s faith and ecclesial commitments, it cannot ultimately ground it.

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      • >>>>>My personal opinion is that while biblical scholarship may inform, and even critique, one’s faith and ecclesial commitments, it cannot ultimately ground it.
        I agree with this! 😀

        Yes, the fundamental flaw with historical criticism is that we either cannot know or will re-learn something that causes us to change our minds (I did this with the inquisitions) and yet people trump it as the best and only way to understand the Bible. My current Hebrew professor is great at emphasizing that most of the stuff we learn is hypotheses. I did have a New Testament professor one semester who parroted his ideas around as if they were the absolute truth (“I give the ‘facts’, you decide what to do with them!”). He was a little crazy IMO.

        Which reminds me…I’m currently planning on writing about the proto-orthodox–who were they, were they genuine apostolics, did the later fourth century church read too much into them, were they homogenous, could their opponents at the time realistically be considered orthodox, were they persecute?–for my Judaism and the origins of Christianity class. My professor was suggesting one potential paper topic on Josephus and Jesus in Hebrew yesterday (I have the same professor this semester for both Hebrew and that other class). But that to me is boring and un-moving with absolutely no helpful or potentially shocking insight.

        My bad, seems I got carried away again! Silly me.

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  4. Does Mr. Williams mention the letter of Pliny the Younger to Trajan, in which he says of the Christians who abandoned the faith during persecution, “They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so”?

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  5. JessicaHof says:

    Very grateful to you, Fr Aidan, both for this and for the links to Prof Hurtado’s review of Dunn, which I had somehow missed. This blog is a constant source of inspiration and information – thank you for it 🙂 x Jess

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  6. I find this exciting in some ways yet I am also dismayed that the disagreements here are basing themselves on scholarship & historicity. Whether you believe Jesus was God & Man is, in the final instance, a matter of faith, no? One can argue back & forth for a 100 years & it won’t change things; there are no ultimate ‘proofs’ without faith.Kierkegaard wrote a wonderful bk. Unconcluding Scientific Postcript which (yes, he was Protestant, but what faith! & what spirit!) which , in my mind , settles the matter of historical proofs. Now yes,Catholics & Orthodox accept that scripture & church teaching combine to assure one of what is named the ‘deposit of faith.’ Be that as it may, in the end one either believes he was the God Man and rose from the dead or not. ‘If Christ be not rise I will have none of him.’ Who was it wrote that? A great Italian theologian but whose name escapes me.
    Forgive me friends if I sound impatient, but one does weary of these debates. Since I was a kid I have believed in the Resurrection. What else matters? The great vision of death defeated: ‘I have overcome these things’ makes pretty much anything else pale in comparision.

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  7. PJ says:

    Let us listen to the earliest witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, not twentieth century scholars or seventh century Arab prophets.

    Jesus is the “heir of all things, through whom also [God] created the world” (Hebrews 1:2).

    Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

    Jesus is the “Son,” to whom God says, “‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’ … And, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands'” (Hebrews 1:8, 10).

    Jesus is the “Lord … through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).

    Jesus is the one in whom “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

    Jesus is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. … by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).

    Jesus is the “Word” who “was with God” and “was God” (John 1:1). “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:2-3).

    Jesus is “that which was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1), the “eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2).

    Jesus is “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6); he possesses “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

    Jesus is the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5).

    Jesus is the “chief corner stone … [and] there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

    Jesus is the one in whose name Christians are baptized, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

    Jesus is the one who sends the Spirit of the Father: ““But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26).

    Jesus is the “Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

    Jesus is “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4), and it is the “mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 21).

    Jesus is the one from whose face shines “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

    Jesus is the “first and the last” (Revelation 1:17) and the “alpha and the omega … the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13).

    Jesus forgives sins (Mark 2:5), calms storms (Mark 4:39), walks on water (Mark 6:48; cf. Job 9:8), raises the dead

    Jesus says, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

    Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

    Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).

    Jesus says, “You have heard it said [by God] … But I say” (Matthew 5:21-22).

    Jesus is the subject of the “Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (cf. Luke 24:36-49).

    And so on and so forth. These sources are our *only* means of knowing *anything* about Jesus of Nazareth. According to the vast majority of scholars, the texts are almost certainly first century — some of them first half of the first century! This is the Quranic “christology”? This is the description of a mere man? Please. Sadly, we’re dealing here with men who do not possess the Spirit, nor the mind of Christ, and so do not know the things of God.

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    • Maximus says:

      PJ,

      Nuff said. Amen, amen, amen!

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    • Matthew N. Petersen says:

      Yes. It is perhaps possible to read those in an Arian or Nestorian way (that is, the debates were difficult for a reason, not that the heretics may in fact be right after all), but it isn’t possible to read them in a “mere human” way.

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