Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino
Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.
Question #48 – I’ve Heard That the Birth Story of Jesus Is Esteemed by Muslims. Is Islamic Teaching Similar to Christian Beliefs?
The Quran, Islam’s scripture, also affirms that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and a true prophet of God, that he was virgin born and performed many miracles.
It venerates Jesus (“Isa”) and his mother Mary (“Maryam”) as holy figures who preceded the Prophet Muhammad.
Jesus is praised not just as a prophet but also as the Messiah. He is even honored as the “word” of God.“While the Quran does include the story of Jesus being virgin born, there is difference in the accounts.”
In the Quran, Mary is praised as a pious and a chaste woman, blessed by the angels, who tell her, “Mary, God has chosen you and made you pure: He has truly chosen you above all women.”
Mary is the only woman in the whole Quran mentioned by name and there is an entire Sura (chapter 19) named after her.
The Quran tells about how Mary conceived her blessed son, miraculously, without any man touching her.
In this chapter she says, “How can I have a son when no man has touched me? I have not been unchaste.” “And so it was ordained. She conceived him.” (Sura 19:16-22).
But while the Quran does include the story of Jesus being virgin born, there is difference in the accounts. This difference concerns where he was born and with what kind of accompanying miracle.“The birth story in the Quran is similar to that found in two apocryphal books, the Protoevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Matthew.”
In the Quran, Jesus is not born in Bethlehem but in an unspecified “distant place.” Mary is alone during Jesus’ birth, neither Joseph nor anyone else is there and it says she gave birth under a palm tree, next to a miraculous spring (Sura 19:22-26).
The birth story in the Quran is similar to that found in two apocryphal books, the Protoevangelium of James (a second-century Christian text) and the the Infancy Gospel of Matthew (known as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.)
In the Protoevangelium, Jesus was born in a “cave” outside of Bethlehem to Mary who is alone, with no one to help her.
In the Infancy Gospel of Matthew, during their flight to Egypt, Mary rests under a palm tree, and from its root a spring of water miraculously came forth at (the two year old) Jesus’ command.“Nevertheless, while the Quran concurs with the virgin birth of Christ, the Quran also emphatically rejects the very crux of our Christian faith: the divinity of Jesus.”
The Quran mentions 28 prophets, among them Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. But Muhammad is the last and greatest of them all, the “seal” of those who appeared before him.
However, Muhammad was not divine; he was simply “man at his best” and God is the wholly Other, the One with whom Muhammad was united in will but not in substance.
Whatever people may believe about Muhammad’s divine qualities, it is true that Muslim theology has refused to deify him.
Nevertheless, while the Quran concurs with the virgin birth of Christ, the Quran also emphatically rejects the very crux of our Christian faith: the divinity of Jesus.“A careful reading of the Quran will disclose that Muhammad did not have a clear grasp of what classic orthodox Christianity was teaching about the Trinity in the seventh century A.D.”
In the Quranic view, yes Jesus was miraculously born, but this did not make him the “Son of God.”
Instead, he was “a messenger of God” who “would never disdain to be a servant of God” (Sura 4:171-72).
So, because the Quran affirms that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, a true prophet of God, that He was virgin born and performed many miracles, and because of the significant portion of the Quran that is devoted to Mary; Muslims believe Christians should be laudatory of them and look upon them as supportive of Christian beliefs.
I see several problems with this. The Quran itself acknowledges that if it contains any errors anywhere, it did not come from God (Sura 4, “Women,” verse 82).“Muhammad’s consistent representation of the Trinity suggests that he conceived the idea of a trinity along the lines of crude tri-theism, a heresy that Christianity had consistently repudiated.”
However, a careful reading of the Quran will disclose that Muhammad did not have a clear grasp of what classic orthodox Christianity was teaching about the Trinity in the seventh century A.D.
He was hearing views that had been totally rejected by the early fathers of the church. Muhammad’s consistent representation of the Trinity suggests that he conceived the idea of a trinity along the lines of crude tri-theism, a heresy that Christianity had consistently repudiated.
In Sura 5, “The Table,” verse 116, he teaches that Christians believe that God’s “three-ness” is composed of Allah, Jesus (whom he believed ill-informed Christians had wrongly deified), and Jesus’ mother Mary.
Now whatever sub-scriptural oddities some church fathers may have espoused over the early centuries of the church about God as Trinity, I can declare categorically that not one of them ever taught that God’s “three-ness” included the mother of Jesus, nor has any ecumenical council ever endorsed such a notion.“While the Quran teaches that Jesus is a faithful servant to Allah and is virgin born, He is not divine in any sense, nor did He die on the cross for man’s sin.”
This is an error of massive proportions on Muhammad’s part and shows ignorance of Christian teaching.
It also shows the Quran contains a significant error respecting this major doctrine in Christianity.
Christianity has historically declared in its creeds and confessions that within the unity of the one living and true God eternally exist three persons: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and that these three are one God, the same in substance and equal in power and glory.
While the Quran teaches that Jesus is a faithful servant to Allah and is virgin born, He is not divine in any sense, nor did He die on the cross for man’s sin.
Jesus, according to the Qur’an, was taken unharmed directly to heaven (Sura 3, “The Imrans,” verse 55 and Sura 4, “Women,” verses 156-158).
If this is so: When was Jesus replaced, according to the Quran? Why did the disciples not recognize that the man they were following was replaced before the cross?
Why did the mother of Christ not recognize that her son was not present on the Cross? What was the alleged purpose of Allah in deceiving the crowd, including the disciples and Mary, into thinking Christ was being crucified?
Until Islam can reconcile these major differences, I find very few similarities between Christian and Islamic beliefs.
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