Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 4, Number 2


Preaching Jesus to Muslims

Deborah Chapman
Volgogard, Russia

Islam teaches that God cannot have a son, therefore Jesus' claim to divinity is rejected.

    They say: "(God) Most Gracious Has begotten a son!" Indeed ye have put forth A thing most monstrous! At it the skies are ready To burst, the earth To split asunder, and The mountains to fall down In utter ruin, That they should invoke A son for (God) Most Gracious. For it is not consonant With the majesty of (God) Most Gracious that He Should beget a son (Sura 19:88-92).1

Specifically Muslims believe 1) there is only one God; 2) God will not share his authority or position; 3) it is anathema to think God would have sex to create a son; and 4) Jesus is just another messenger, one of many in a long line of prophets. Historical Background La ilaha illallah. There is no god but Allah. Monotheism is the primary tenant of Islam. This was Muhammad's great accomplishment- to turn seventh century Arabs from polytheism to the one God. To Muslims, God's oneness is his outstanding characteristic. God is transcendent, holy, and set apart from creation and other pretenders to the throne. Islam's rejection of Incarnation is motivated by great respect for God's holiness and honor. God is to be worshiped from a distance.

Islam views God's oneness or unity as three characteristics: one in person, one in attributes, and one in works. His oneness in person permits no multiplicity of gods, nor more than one in the Godhead. His oneness in attributes means that his perfect attributes do not exist in another being. His oneness in works means that no one else is capable of doing what God can do.

God has servants to do his bidding; he does not need to come himself, Islam argues. "We should be fools to ask for Him to step down from His throne of infinite attributes to become comprehensible for us." God only sends servants.

    The Qur'anic conception of the relation of the human race to God is dominated by two words, 'abd and rabb. In relation to God a human being is an 'adb or "slave," while God is the rabb, usually translated "lord," but perhaps connoting rather something more august such as "sovereign."
Thus, the picture of Jesus Christ in Philippians 2 humbling himself and taking the form of a servant in being made a man is incomprehensible to a Muslim.

Honor is basic to the Arab culture and they have a very high view of God's honor. To them Christ, if viewed as God, would take away from God's authority and honor, by sharing it. Further they fear he would attempt to usurp God's authority, as they are used to seeing human leaders do.

Heresies in the Greek Orthodox Church affected Islam's view of the virgin birth. Mary was revered to the point of deity. Thus, to Arabs, the Trinity appeared to be a father, mother, and son.

    O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say to man Take me and my mother for thou God Besides Allah? (Sura 5:116)

That God would have sexual relations and have a family is repugnant to Muslims, as well as to Christians. This is anthropomorphic and unworthy of God.

The Qur'an mentions Christ but not as a divine son. He is seen as just another messenger, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad. Christ's message is understood as being limited to the Jews.

    And God will teach him The Book and Wisdom, The Law and the Gospel, And (appoint him) An apostle to the Children Of Israel... (Sura 3:48-49)

There is a skepticism within Islam of our New Testament. Thus, many of the claims and works of Christ are dismissed. The Christian acceptance of Jesus as Son of God is viewed in Islam as adoption--deifying Jesus. This is shirk, the sin of associating someone with God. This is the most serious of sins.

    God forgiveth not That partners should be set up With Him; but He forgiveth Anything else, to whom He pleaseth; to set up Partners with God is to devise a sin Most heinous indeed (Sura 4:48).

Idolatry and polytheism is wrong in Islam, for quite a different reason than the Old Testament view of God's jealousy (Exodus 20:3-4). It is wrong because it is lifting up to worship a created thing over which we have God-given sovereignty. Thus it diminishes humankind.

Interestingly, God's grace is another reason for Islam's rejection of the sonship of Jesus. Christ's apparent appeasement of God on the cross is seen as unnecessary. God is forgiving, he does not demand satisfaction. This idea is seen in Sura 19 quoted at the beginning of this article. The need for the Son's redemptive work is not consistent with the idea of a gracious God.

An Apologetic Presentation to Muslims

False View of the Trinity
    God did not have sexual intercourse with Mary. The Scripture account describes God's power, not a physical action. And Mary said to the Angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (Lk 1:34.35, RSV).

To derive physical paternity from the use of the term, God the Father, is to make God in our image.

Mary is not one of the trinity. She was a mere woman, though devout and chosen by God. In response to a woman's praise of his mother, Jesus answered, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Lk 11:27-28). Mary held no revered position. The heresy of Mariolatry corrupted Islam's view of the Christian godhead. The Incarnation as Self-Revelation

The question of the incarnation boils down to one of revelation. Did God only reveal himself through books of Scripture and messengers, or has he revealed himself?

The Qur'an gives three ways that Allah speaks to man. The first is through inspiration of prophets and others. The second is speaking "from behind a veil," for example, through a vision or a dream. The third way is with words given to a prophet through an angel or the Holy Spirit. The latter is the highest form of revelation. It is the mode of the Qur'an. Muhammad said the angel Gabriel gave him the words. I propose that self-revelation, as occurred in Christ, is higher still. In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power (Heb 1:1-3).1

This is the tremendous difference in the Christian message. What had been shrouded and partial is now clear and complete in Christ. God himself has shown his true nature. God coming in person is a more perfect revelation than giving his words to prophets. Kenneth Cragg describes Qur'anic revelation:

    Revelation is conceived of, not as a communication of the Divine Being, but only of the divine will. It is a revelation that is, of law, not of personality, God the Revealer remains unrevealed.

In contrast, the incarnation demonstrates God's desire for fellowship. He comes himself. He does not just send a messenger or his word. Christianity is a call to relationship, not just obedience to God's law. This was foreshadowed by the prophet Jeremiah.

    But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer: 31:33-34).

The Trinity as Self-Revelation

Christians are monotheistic as are Jewish believers and Muslims. The Christian doctrine of the unity of God has been misunderstood because of their beliefs concerning Christ. Karl Barth is correct when he states that Scripture does not contain the doctrine of the Trinity. Only the "possibility" is there. Perhaps it would have been better to just accept the mystery of the relationship of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Systematizing the idea into a doctrine not only has probably done harm to its reality, but has created a barrier for Muslims, as well as those of other faiths.
    It would be blasphemy to turn a human teacher into God; but to recognize that fact is not to deny that God in Christ might come to teach. The sad fact about Islam is that it has refused the Christian faith about Christ on the wrong premise--on the basis, that is, of something which that faith does not assert.

The sin of shirk is associating other things with God. That is not what Christians have done with Christ. For Christ already was associated with God from the beginning. He is God. Christians do not make him God. Christians do not assign divine attributes to Christ. He is divine. Those attributes are his by nature.

It is not a sin to accept God's revelation of himself. God has chosen to reveal himself in Christ. It is a unique and perfect revelation, in that it is personal. "The Revealer and what is revealed are identi- cal."

The revelation is unique, perfect, and also final. "When someone has disclosed himself ultimately in a definite, particular event, he cannot again disclose himself in the same sense in another event different from the first." Once we have seen God we need no further revelation of him.

Christ, therefore, does not steal from the unity of God, but contributes to it. He reveals God's essential unity and nature. Christ does not attempt to minimize God's forgiveness--on the cross he reveals a merciful God. Christ does not steal a position of sonship--he reveals God as father. Christ does not raise himself up to heaven--he reveals a God who is willing to come down from heaven to reveal himself to humanity.

God's Sovereignty and the Incarnation Sin is in opposition to God's holiness. It has created an impenetrable barrier between God and us. It cannot be compensated for by our good works, as Muslims believe. To think good works can outweigh our evil minimizes the seriousness of sin. God has been dishonored by our sinful behavior and there is nothing we can do to rectify the situation.

Only our loving and all powerful God can deal with our sin. Only he is able to remove the barrier in our relationship with him. This is the revelation we have through Christ: that God himself has come to deal with our sin problem. His honor compels him. Love compels him. Mercy compels him. He is the only one powerful and holy enough to accomplish our redemption.

    For is that sovereignty truly sovereign if it fails to take action against the empire of ignorance and evil in humankind? Thought on the Incarnation here merges imperceptibly as it must into the Cross, because it was for redemption that God visited humankind. When we present Christ we ask Muslims to believe not less but more in the undefeated sovereignty of God. To believe that God stooped to our need and weakness is not to make God less, but more, the God of all power and glory. With all patience, born of faith in this very sovereignty, we must invite all to seek and find in Christ the demonstration that God is God alone, and that all contrary powers are gloriously vanquished and subdued.

Humanly, death on the cross is seen as weakness, but from a spiritual perspective it is God's victorious defeat of sin.


Islam's rejection of Jesus' sonship is based on false assumptions. Christians believe in one God. Christians do not deify Christ. He is and was deity. Christians believe in the virgin birth, as the Qur'an teaches. Further, Christ contributed to the unity of God by revealing God. Christ is a more perfect revelation--self-revelation, more perfect than books of Scripture could ever be. The revelation is clear, complete, and shows us God's desire for fellowship. The incarnation also demonstrates God's sovereign action against sin. He came himself to deal with sin, directly and strongly.



Selected Bibliography

Abdul-Hagg, Addiyah Akbar. Sharing Your Faith With a Muslim. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1980.

Ahmad, Mirza Ghulam. The Teachings of Islam. Lahore, Pakistan: Madras Diocesan Press, 1921.

'Ali, Maulana Muhammad. The Religion of Islam. 3rd ed. Lahore, Pakistan: Ripon Printing Press LTD., 1971.

Chowdhry, Aziz A. "Essence of the Teachings of Jesus." The Review of Religions 79:12 (December 1984): 26-32.

Cragg, Kenneth. The Call of the Minaret. 2nd ed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985.

The Holy Qur'an. Trans. by A. Yusuf Ali. Brentwood, MD: Amana Corp., 1983.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus, God and Man. Trans. by Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane

A. Priebe. Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1977.

Parshall, Phil. New Paths in Muslim Evangelism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980.

Ullah, Mohammed Zia. Islamic Concept of God. Boston: Kegan Paul International, 1984.

Watt, W. Montgomery. Islam and Christianity Today: A Contribution to Dialogue. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.

Welch, Claude. In This Name. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952.

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