By Anthony Wales
Muslims have produced much material in which they argue against the Divinity of Jesus Christ. One example of this is the article Is Jesus Really God, which is available on a number of locations on the internet (e.g., , ), and has also been published as a pamphlet. The article quotes or refers to 16 Bible verses (all from the Gospels), and from these verses the writer claims that the Bible says Jesus is not God. However, all of these verses can be interpreted in accordance with Christian teaching about Jesus Christ, and so do not disprove the Divinity of Jesus Christ. I will demonstrate this in my response. The article's words are in blue and my words are in black.
1. God is All Knowing... but Jesus was not. When speaking of the day of judgement, Jesus clearly gave evidence of a limitation on his knowledge when he said, "but of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). But God knows all. His knowledge is without any limitations. That Jesus, of his own admission, did not know when the day of judgement would be, is clear proof that Jesus is not all-knowing, and that Jesus is therefore not God.
The Bible uses the words 'know' in a number of different ways. Sometimes it is used to mean 'proclaim', 'reveal', or 'make known'. It can also mean to know in an intimate fashion (Genesis 4:1; Amos 3:1-2). In his first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul reminds the Corinthians that during his visit he "decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). The book of Genesis includes the story of Abraham going to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). In this story the angel of the Lord says to Abraham, "now I know that you fear God" (Genesis 22:12).
It is possible to interpret these words of the angel to mean that Abraham's fear of God has been made known. The purpose of the trial was for Abraham to intimately know how much he feared God, and it is reasonable to say Abraham learnt how much he feared God. God knows things because they are his works and he enables them to occur, so he knows Abraham's fear of God by enabling Abraham to carry out the trial. By enabling Abraham to carry out the trial, God has enabled Abraham to know how much he fears God.
Jesus Christ is using the word 'knows' in this sense in Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32. (St Augustine, ON THE TRINITY, Book 1, Chapter 12; online edition) (St Thomas Aquinas, SUMMA THEOLOGICA, 3rd Part, Question 10, Article 2, Reply to Objection 1, online edition)
Mere human beings obviously do not possess knowledge of when the day of judgement will be. Therefore, in saying that no human being knows the day or the hour, Jesus is warning his followers against attempting to work out when judgement day will be, and against proclaiming their guesses to other people. He is also telling us to ignore anyone who proclaims the time of judgement day. In the same chapter of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says:
If anyone says to you, "Look! Here is the Messiah!" or "There he is!" - do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, "Look! He is in the wilderness", do not go out. If they say, "Look! He is in the inner rooms", do not believe it. For as lightening comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man... Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. (Matthew 24:23-27, 41-44; see also Mark 13:21-23, 32-37)
Angels may or may not have knowledge of the time of judgement day. Either way, Jesus Christ is telling us that the angels are not permitted to speak to human beings about the time of judgement day. All the good angels are faithful to this restriction because they are perfectly obedient to God. Therefore, any angel that speaks to human beings about the time of judgement day must be one of the fallen angels (also known as demons). Such an angel should definitely be ignored and kept out of our lives.
Jesus Christ has perfect knowledge of the time of judgement day. The Bible tells us that all things were made through Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God (John 1:1-3, 14-18; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2). This means that all times were made through him, including the day of judgement. The Bible also tells us that Jesus Christ is the one who will judge all people (Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:22, 27-29; Acts 17:31). Since the day of judgement was made through Jesus Christ and he will be the judge on that day, it is reasonable to say that he has perfect knowledge of when that day will be. (St Thomas Aquinas, SUMMA THEOLOGICA, 3rd Part, Question 10, Article 2, Reply to Objection 1)
In Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, Jesus Christ is telling his disciples that it is not part of his mission to reveal the time of judgement day. By doing this, he is discouraging his disciples, and us, from asking him when judgement day will be. Jesus does this by using a manner of speaking that his disciples were familiar with and can be understood by people familiar with the Bible, as I briefly explained above. After his resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples that they are not meant to know the times and periods determined by God (Acts 1:6-7). (Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, A new edition revised by Fr Peter Joseph, The Saint Austin Press, London, 2001, pp. 384-385)
The Father has perfect knowledge of judgement day because he is God and therefore has perfect knowledge (John 17:1-3). He is said to know or reveal it because he always reveals it to the Son, because he gives the fullness of Divinity to the Son (John 3:35; 5:22, 27; 10:29; 16:15; Colossians 1:19). Also, the Father did not become Man and was not standing among the apostles. Therefore, he did not have to warn the apostles against asking him about the day of judgement like Jesus did.
In Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, Jesus Christ calls himself 'the Son', he refers to God as 'the Father', and he lists himself between the angels and the Father, and well above men. Islam does not believe Jesus is the Son of God and it does not refer to God as 'Father' (Qur'an 4:171, 19:34-35, 88-93 and 112:1-4). Therefore, these Bible verses support Christianity and oppose Islam on these issues. The fact that Jesus places himself above the angels, and well above men, in this hierarchical list at least implies his Divinity, because who is above the angels but God. What I have said here applies to other Bible verses used in the Muslim article. I think Muslims should reflect on everything implied and taught in particular Bible verses before using them in arguments.
2. God is All-Powerful... but Jesus was not. While Jesus performed many miracles, he himself admitted that the power was not his own but was derived from God when he said, "Verily, verily I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do..." (John 5:19) Again he said, "I can of mine own self do nothing: As I hear I judge, and my judgement is just because I seek not mine own will but the will of the Father which has sent me" (John 5:30). But God is not only all-powerful, he is also the source of all power and authority. That Jesus, of his admission, could do nothing on his own is clear proof that Jesus is not all-powerful, and that therefore Jesus is not God.
The Bible and the Nicene Creed teach that the Son is fully God. They also teach that he receives the absolute fullness of Divinity from God the Father. In other words, the Son is true God, because the Father has eternally given him the Divine essence. The Bible and the Nicene Creed also tell us that the Father and the Son are one, which means they always work together. These truths are expressed in Matthew 11:27; 28:18-19; John 1:18; 3:35; 5:17-23, 26-27; 10:29-30, 38; 14:9-11; 16:15; 17:1-2, 5, 10-11, 21-25; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:3; and 1 John 2:23. The Nicene Creed speaks of "the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, but not made, of one being with the Father."
To avoid misunderstanding it is important to explain the Christian belief about the generation of the Son and the Incarnation. God has perfect Knowledge of himself for all eternity. This knowledge may be called the Word. This Word is eternal because God is eternal and his intellect is always in perfect action. God is perfectly one, which means this Word is one with all God's attributes. In other words, this Word is infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, truth, goodness, existence, life, love, spirit, eternal, and uncreated, which means this Word is God. This Word is perfectly one with God. The Word is called the Son because he may be described as intellectually generated. God may be called the Father because he may be described as intellectually generating the Word.
Two thousand years ago the eternal Word of God became Human and entered human history. This took place by the Son of God the Father perfectly uniting a human nature to himself. All human beings have a limited union with God. God is existence, life, love, truth, goodness, wisdom, and power. Our existence and life, and all the love, truth, goodness, wisdom and power among us, is merely a limited sharing in God. The Incarnation consists in this sharing being raised to the highest possible level, by the Word of God taking a human nature to himself. In other words, Jesus Christ is one Person with two natures, a Divine nature and a Human nature.
Jesus Christ is all-powerful, which means he is truly God. The chapter of John's Gospel quoted by the Muslim writer clearly demonstrates this. "Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise... just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whoever he wishes... the hour is coming when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live" (John 5:19, 21, 25). The truth that the Son raises the dead, gives life, and does everything the Father does, means he must have infinite power. To possess infinite power is to be God, so the Son must be God.
The Son receives his infinite power from the Father, because he receives the fullness of Divinity from the Father. In other words, the Son is all-powerful, because the Father gives him infinite power. Also, the Son is one being with the Father, so he never works by himself, but always works with the Father. These are the reasons why Jesus says, "the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing" and "I can do nothing on my own." These words do not imply that the Son is not God, but express the truth that the Son receives the fullness of Divinity from the Father, and is perfectly one with the Father.
3. God does not have a God... but Jesus did have a God. God is the ultimate judge and refuge of all, and He does not call upon nor pray to any others. But Jesus acknowledged that there was one whom he worshipped and to whom he prayed when he said, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God" (John 20:17). He is also reported to have cried out while on the cross, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) If Jesus were God, then couldn't this be read, "Myself, myself why hast thou forsaken me?" Would that not be pure nonsense? When Jesus prayed the Lord's prayer (Luke 11:2-4) was he praying to himself? When in the garden of Gethsemane he prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: Nevertheless not as I will but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:36-39). Was Jesus praying to himself? That Jesus, of his own admission and by his own actions, acknowledged, worshipped, and prayed to another being as God is clear proof that Jesus himself is not God.
Jesus did not pray the Lord's Prayer. To say that he did, as the article does, misrepresents the teaching of the Bible, and implies that Jesus was a sinner (which is contrary to Christian and Islamic teaching) because this prayer includes the words, "forgive us our sins" (Luke 11:4). The Our Father or Lord's Prayer is mentioned twice in the Bible (Matthew 6:7-13 and Luke 11:1-4). In both places it is clear that Jesus is not praying the Lord's Prayer but is telling his disciples that this is how they should pray. It is called the Lord's Prayer not because Jesus prayed it, but because it is the prayer that the Lord Jesus taught his disciples.
Matthew 6:7-13 says:
When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you as him. Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
Luke 11:1-4 says:
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.' He said to them, 'When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial'.
Christianity teaches that there are three persons in God. These Divine persons are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each of the Divine persons possesses the fullness of Divinity and can be called God. Christianity also teaches that the Son became Man, which means that Jesus Christ is true God and true Man. These teachings of Christianity are summarised and proclaimed in the Nicene Creed (*) and the Athanasian Creed (*). There are many articles and web pages that discuss the Biblical basis for these doctrines, and/or show that the doctrines are reasonable, (e.g.
Jesus Christ acknowledged that the Father is God, and he constantly worshipped and prayed to the Father. Jesus is true God and true Man, which means he performs both Divine and human actions. Worshipping and praying to God the Father are two very important human actions, so it is not a surprise that Jesus performed them. The Son came to bring human beings back to a true relationship with God. He did this by becoming Man and, in his humanity, living a perfect relationship with God. This is a further reason why Jesus Christ included worship and prayer among his human actions.
The Father and the Son are two Divine persons in the one Divine being. In other words, they are absolutely one or one in essence, and relatively two or two in person. The truth that they are two Divine persons means they are relatively distinct from each other. This distinction is seen most clearly in the fact that it is only the Son who became Man. The truth that the Father and the Son are relatively distinct Divine persons means that the Son can acknowledge the Father as God and the Father can acknowledge the Son as God. Therefore, the Christian beliefs about the Trinity and Jesus Christ do not conflict with the fact that Jesus Christ acknowledged the Father as God.
Some of the verses in question can actually be seen as implying the Divinity of Jesus Christ. In the account of the Lord's Prayer in St Luke's Gospel Jesus is called 'Lord'. This title can be understood as implying his Divinity. It gains further significance when put together with numerous other Bible passages that imply or explicitly teach that Jesus Christ is God. The following article presents many such Bible verses: Jesus is God: Biblical Proofs.
In John 20:17, Jesus Christ says, "Go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'." It is important to note that Jesus says, "my Father and your Father" and "my God and your God", and not "our Father" and "our God." This can be interpreted to mean that Jesus has a unique relationship with God the Father that is different from the relationship all his disciples have with God the Father. In other words, it can be seen to imply that Jesus is the Son of God the Father by nature (i.e. he is Divine), whereas all Jesus' disciples are children of God only by adoption in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14). (M. Anderson, The Trinity, Appendix)
4. God is an invisible spirit... but Jesus was flesh and blood. While thousands saw Jesus and heard his voice, Jesus himself said that this could not be done with God when he said, "No man hath seen God at any time" (John 1:18). "Ye have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His shape" (John 5:37). He also said in John 4:24: "God is a spirit and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." That Jesus would say that no one had seen or heard God at any time, while his followers both saw and heard him, is clear proof that Jesus was not God.
The Bible and the Church teach that Jesus Christ is true God and true Man, as has been shown already. Jesus' Divinity is obviously pure spirit and invisible. Jesus' humanity is soul and body, and his body is obviously visible. Therefore, the fact that Jesus had flesh and blood, and could be seen and heard, does not contradict the Christian belief that Jesus is God. These truths would only contradict Christianity if it taught that Jesus was God and not Man. However, Christianity teaches that Jesus is God and Man, so there is no contradiction.
John 1:18 states that "no one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known." We read elsewhere in John's Gospel that Jesus Christ is the Son and the one who makes God known by coming into the world (John 1:14; 5:18; 14:9). We cannot directly see God, but we can indirectly see him through the humanity of Jesus. Therefore, it is in and through Jesus Christ that we can experience God and have a personal relationship with him.
Jesus Christ's words in John 5:37 are part of a long discussion/dispute between Jesus and some Jews who were against him (John 5:16-47). The passage says, "Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus... But Jesus answered them... For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him... Jesus said to them... You have never heard his voice or seen his form..." The words, "you have never heard his voice or seen his form" were addressed to these Jews and were not spoken to all people, so they cannot be regarded as meaning that not a single person has heard or can hear God. On the contrary, at least John the Baptist heard God the Father speaking at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, and Luke 3:21-22). The Apostles Peter, James and John heard God the Father speaking at Jesus' transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36).
5. No one is greater than God and no one can direct Him... but Jesus acknowledged someone greater than himself whose will was distinct from his own. Perhaps the clearest indication we have that Jesus and God are not equal, and therefore not one and the same, come again from the mouth of Jesus himself who said in John 14:28, "My Father is greater than I." When someone referred to him as good master in Matthew 19:17, Jesus responded, "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God..." Furthermore, Jesus drew clear distinctions between himself and God when he said, "I proceeded forth and came from God, neither came I of myself but He sent me" (John 8:42). Jesus gave clear evidence of his subordination to God, rather than his equality with God, when he said in Luke 22:42, "not my will but thine be done" and in John 5:30, "I seek not mine own will but the will of the Father which has sent me." That Jesus would admit that he did not come into the world on his own initiative but was directed to do so, that he would acknowledge another being as greater than himself, and that he would negate his own will in deference to affirming the will of another, give clear proof that Jesus is not the Supreme One and therefore Jesus is not God.
The Christian teaching about Jesus Christ is summarised in the Athanasian Creed (*). This Creed says:
The right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man. God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the substance of His mother, born into the world. Perfect God and Perfect Man, of a reasonable Soul and human Flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood.
Jesus Christ is true God and true Man. His Divinity is as great as the Father and his Humanity is less than the Father. This means it is possible for Jesus to proclaim that he is as great as the Father (indicating his Divinity) and less than the Father (indicating his Humanity). The fourteenth chapter of John's Gospel shows Jesus doing both. He says, "My Father is greater than I" (14:28), "I am the way and the truth and the life" (14:6), and "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (14:9). The first statement does not deny Jesus' Divinity but merely affirms his Humanity. The latter two statements affirm that there is nothing greater than Jesus and that he is equal to the Father, and therefore affirm his Divinity.
Jesus Christ's words in Matthew 19:17 (see also Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-23) do not mean that he is not good and not God. The man who called Jesus 'good' was focused on earthly things and not on God, and therefore regarded Jesus as nothing more than a man. The rich man was equating 'good' and 'man' in his mind, which Jesus does not want him to do.
This is why Jesus questions the rich young man about calling him good. Jesus also mentions God to get the rich young man to focus on God and not simply on earthly things. Had the man recognised that Jesus was God, Jesus would have accepted the title 'good'. (St Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 1, Chapter 13, Section 31; online edition)
I think this interpretation fits well with the passage in question and with rest of the Bible. The rich man is obviously so focused on earthly things that he has neglected to focus on God. This is seen by the fact that he puts his money and possessions above obeying Jesus' call to leave everything and follow Him (Matthew 19:21-22, Mark 10:21-22, and Luke 18:22-23). Other parts of the Bible show Jesus calling Himself 'Lord' and 'Good Shepherd', and accepting the titles 'Lord' and 'God' (John 10:11, 14; 13:13; 20:26-29).
The fact that God the Father sent Jesus does not conflict with the Christian teaching about Jesus Christ. Jesus is true God and true Man. It is obviously true to speak of Jesus being sent when thinking about his humanity. Therefore, Jesus' words about being sent by the Father can be explained as merely affirming his humanity. The words can also be interpreted as expressing the truth that Jesus is the Son of the Father. St Augustine writes:
"But if the Son is said to be sent by the Father on this account, that the one is the Father, and the other the Son, this does not in any manner hinder us from believing the Son to be equal, and consubstantial, and co-eternal with the Father, and yet to have been sent as Son by the Father. Not because the one is greater, the other less; but because the one is Father, the other Son; the one begetter, the other begotten; the one, He from whom He is who is sent; the other, He who is from Him who sends." (On the Trinity, Book 4, Chapter 20, Part 27)
There is no conflict between Christian teaching and Jesus' words in John 8:42. The Son is said to proceed forth and come from God because he is eternally begotten by the Father and came from the Father into the world. The Father is often called 'God', not because he is the only Divine Person, but because he is the First Person of the Trinity, and is the origin of the other two Divine Persons. The Father begets the Son, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Nicene Creed).
Jesus Christ possesses two wills, the Divine will and a human will (CCC, 475; here). His Divine will is perfectly one with the will of the Father and the will of the Holy Spirit. His human will always submits to the Divine will, which is fully possessed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is speaking about his human will when he says he came not to do his own will, and when he abandons his will in preference for the Father's will in the garden of Gethsemane. These words and actions in no way deny that Jesus possesses the Divine will, but merely affirm that he truly possesses a human will.
The will of human beings had gone astray and was no longer in harmony with the will of God. Jesus Christ became Man to bring the human will back to God. He accomplished this by completely submitting his human will to the Divine will. Jesus' words and actions in Luke 22:42 and John 5:30 merely show Jesus proclaiming and living this submission of his human will to the will of God. It is possible to say that Jesus could perfectly submit his human will to the Divine will, because he perfectly possessed and understood the Divine will. If this is true, then Jesus is truly God, because only God has perfect possession and understanding of the Divine will.
Appendix: The Holy Spirit, Muhammad, and the Divinity of Jesus Christ
Muslims believe the Bible contains prophecies of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. The New Testament passages that receive the most attention from Muslims are found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to John (14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:7-15). These passages record Jesus Christ's promise that the Holy Spirit (also known as the Advocate or Comforter) will come after him. Muslims claim that the Holy Spirit is actually the prophet Muhammad. However, there is a major problem with this Muslim claim.
When Jesus Christ spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit he mentioned a number of very important things. Jesus Christ told his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit would come in his name (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). The Holy Spirit's mission involves testifying on behalf of Jesus Christ and glorifying Jesus Christ (John 15:26; 16:14). Jesus Christ said the Holy Spirit would receive what belongs to Jesus and declare it to believers (John 16:13-14). These truths are very important for assessing the Muslim claim that Muhammad is the promised Holy Spirit.
Muslims believe that Muhammad is God's final and universal prophet. They believe that Muhammad was sent by God and came in the name of God. Islam says that Muhammad's mission involved testifying on behalf of God and bringing glory to God. The central task of Muhammad's mission, according to Islam, was to receive the word of God (the Qur'an) and declare it to the people. Many Muslims cite Jesus Christ's promises about the Holy Spirit in their efforts to prove that Muhammad is a genuine prophet.
There is a major flaw in this Muslim claim, which I recommend Muslims consider before using this argument. The application of the promise to Muhammad implies that Jesus Christ is God, as I will demonstrate below. Muhammad denied that Jesus Christ is God, and this denial is strongly maintained in the Muslim world today. In other words, the Muslim claim that the promised Holy Spirit is Muhammad contradicts one of the major teachings of their religion. The Muslim identification of Muhammad with the Holy Spirit in John's Gospel implies the Divinity of Jesus Christ in five ways:
1. Muslims believe that Muhammad came in the name of God. If Muhammad is the Comforter then Jesus Christ is God, because the Comforter comes "in the name of Jesus Christ" (John 14:26).
2. Muslims believe that God sent Muhammad. If Muhammad is the Comforter then Jesus Christ is God, because Jesus Christ sends the Comforter (John 15:26; 16:7).
3. Muslims believe that Muhammad testified on behalf of God. If Muhammad is the Comforter then Jesus Christ is God, because the Comforter testifies on behalf of Jesus Christ (John 15:26).
4. Muslims believe that Muhammad came to bring glory to God. If Muhammad is the Comforter then Jesus Christ is God, because the Comforter comes to bring glory to Jesus Christ (John 16:14).
5. Muslims believe that Muhammad received what belongs to God and declared it to people (i.e. the word of God). If Muhammad is the Comforter then Jesus Christ is God, because the Comforter receives what belongs to Jesus Christ and declares it to believers (John 16:13-14).
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