Saturday 6 July 2013

Jesus in the Qur'an - What Islam affirms and denies about Christ

The whole of the New Testament, indeed the whole Bible, is about Jesus Christ.

By contrast, the Qur’an, which is about the same length as the New Testament, only mentions Jesus in a few of its 114 chapters. What little there is in the Qur’an both affirms and denies what the Bible teaches.

Jesus' birth

The Qur’an deals with Jesus’ birth in Sura 19:16-23, 29-33 and in Sura 3:42-47, 59. These verses affirm that an angel visits Mary (cf Luke 1:26,27) and indicate that God has chosen her and singled her out (cf Luke 1:28). She is said to be blessed among women (cf Luke 1:31-33) and great things are spoken of the son she will bare (cf Luke 1:31-33). The Qur’an in Sura 3:59 likens Jesus to Adam (as does the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 5:22, 45-49 and Romans 5). Most importantly the Qur’an repeatedly affirms the fact of the virgin birth (Sura 19:20). Interestingly Jesus is the only one of the prophets mentioned in the Qur’an who is said to have had a virgin birth.

Jesus' life

There are also similarities in the Qur’an and the Bible with regard to the life of Christ. Like the New Testament, the Qur’an affirms that Jesus performed miracles: in particular that he restored sight to the blind, healed lepers and raised people from the dead (Sura 3:49, 5:11). The Qur’an also affirms that Jesus brought ‘the message of the gospel’ and that he committed no sin (Sura 3:46).

Jesus' titles

There are also similarities between the titles given to Christ in the Qur’an and those in the Bible. The Qur’an calls Jesus ‘the statement of truth’ (Sura 17:24), a similar claim to Jesus calling himself ‘the Way the Truth and the Life’ in John 14:6. Similarly, the Qur’an calls Jesus the Word (Sura 10:19 cf John 1:1), the Apostle (Sura 19:31 cf Hebrews 3:1) and the servant or slave of God (Sura 4:172 and 19:31 cf Isaiah chapters 42, 49, 50 and 53). 

The servant of God was one of Jesus’ favourite terms for himself and he clearly taught that he was the person talked about in the prophet Isaiah’s ‘Servant Songs’ written many centuries before. Most remarkably, the Qur’an refers eleven times (for example Sura 3:45, 4:71, 5:19, 9:30) to Christ as the Messiah. This is particularly interesting because Messiah (or Christ in Greek) is the title repeatedly applied to Jesus throughout the Bible. In fact, much of the Old Testament is devoted to explaining the characteristics and qualities that the coming Messiah will have.

Strange stories

Other material about Jesus in the Qur’an is not in the Bible at all. For example the Qur’an tells us that a palm tree provided anguish for Mary after Jesus’ birth (Sura 19:22-26) and that the baby Jesus talked from the crib (19:29-33). Furthermore Jesus, as a child, is said to have created pigeons from clay which turned into real birds and flew away when he threw them into the air (Sura 3:49 and 5:11).

These ideas to Christians sound quite bizarre, but now with the benefit of archaeology we have some idea as to what their sources may have been. At the time of Muhammad the New Testament had not yet been translated into Arabic and so he didn’t have access to the New Testament manuscripts when recording the Qur’an. However, we know that he was in contact with a number of groups who, although calling themselves Christian, had quite bizarre beliefs. 

Some people suggest that Muhammad may have been influenced by this and simply incorporated ‘heresy’ into the text of the Qur’an and there is, in fact, very good support for this view. The story of the palm tree is found in an apocryphal document called ‘The Lost Books of the Bible’. Similarly the story of the pigeons comes from ‘Thomas’ Gospel of the infancy of Jesus Christ’ and the story of baby Jesus talking is remarkably similar to that found in an Arabic apocryphal fable from Egypt named ‘The First Gospel in the Infancy of Jesus Christ’. All these documents predate the Qur’an by several hundred years.

Plain untruths

The Qur’an also adamantly denies that Jesus is divine (Sura 5:17,75) and says that he is no more than an apostle (4:171; 5:75; 43:59, 63-64). The Qur’an’s claim that Jesus is not the Son of God (9:30) runs starkly in contrast to Jesus’ own claim to divine sonship at his trial (Mk 14:61-64), which led to him being crucified on a blasphemy charge. The Islamic Scriptures also deny that Jesus died on the cross (Sura 4:157) and also, by implication, that he was resurrected.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all we are told that God, Mary and Jesus together constitute the Christian trinity (5:116). This false belief was peddled by a heretical sect called the Collyridians which had been banished to Arabia at the time, and appears to have been unknowingly incorporated into the qur’anic text.


Honest Muslim seekers will want to know more about the life of Christ than the sketchy details recorded in the Qur’an some 600 years after he lived on earth. We need to encourage them to look at the eye-witness accounts of Jesus recorded in the Gospels within a few decades of his death. They can also learn about the historical fact of the crucifixion from late first and early second century documents written by non-Christian Jewish and Roman historians (such as Josephus and Tacitus).

While we can, and should, use what is true about Jesus in the Qur’an to lead Muslims into the fuller truth revealed in the Bible, at some stage we will also have to deal with the differences in the qur’anic and biblical accounts. Why do they believe what the ‘angel’ [claiming to be] Gabriel said above the eye-witness testimony of those who Jesus personally knew, chose and commissioned? ‘Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned’. So said Paul (Gal 1:8,9) In the same way Peter affirmed, ‘we did not follow cleverly invented stories... but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty’ (2 Pet 1:16).


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