Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The True Shahada

Anthony Rogers

"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3)

The words of Christ cited above are made up of several easily discernible notions, notions that are just as fundamental to everything Christian as they are contrary to all things Islamic. The disparity that exists here readily appears when a comparison is made between the foregoing statement of Christ and the fundamental confession of Islam, the so-called Shahada: "I witness that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."

Though Christians have not made John 17:3 into a creed to be feverishly chanted; nor made a wooden and ceremonious recital of it the condition of entrance into the fold of Christianity; nor turned it into something necessarily positioned at the beginning of certain prayers in order for those prayers to be heard by God; nor do they whisper it like magic words into the ears of newborn babies; nevertheless, the truths that it bespeaks are affirmed and experienced by all Christians everywhere. Its importance in this latter sense is undeniable. That the bulk of the world's Muslims do put their Shahada to such a use points up its importance relative to Islam. The relative minority of Muslims who have not accepted its formulaic use - pointing out that it is nowhere found in the Qur’an as such - nonetheless accept as true all of its central declarations.

John 17:3

An Islamic Proof-Text?

In spite of the obvious differences between these two "creeds", many Muslims believe that John 17:3 is a leftover Islamic proof-text found in an otherwise corrupted book. Rather than teaching cardinal Christian truths, this passage is said to support two of the basic contentions of Islam over against Christianity: 1) a unitarian-Islamic version of monotheism, and 2) a denial of the deity of Christ.

The first claim is immediately undermined by the fact that the one whom Jesus calls "the only true God" is the Father (John 17:1-2), a notion that Muslims anathematize. Therefore, even if this were some kind of unitarianism, it is certainly not Islamic-unitarianism.

As for the second claim, that Jesus is not God, it rests on a logical fallacy. The reasoning goes something like this: The Father is the only true God; Jesus is not the Father; therefore, Jesus is not God. When stated more formally, the argument takes the following form: A is B; C is not A; therefore, C is not B.

Even someone untrained in logic should be able to immediately see that this is fallacious. It is no different than arguing the following: Plato (A) is mortal (B); Socrates (C) is not Plato (A); therefore, Socrates (C) is not mortal (B). Both arguments - the one against Christ's deity and the one against Socrates mortality - take the same form; hence, both are fallacious. Things would be different if the text said "only the Father is God", or "the Father alone is the only true God", but it does not. [Muslim apologist Shabir Ally seems to recognize this, at least implicitly, assuming his remark wasn't intentional, for he unwittingly misquotes this verse in one of his articles attacking the deity of Christ, saying: "Jesus too confirmed that the Father alone is the only true God (see John 17:1-3)".]1

{This argument might also be stated in the form of a conditional: "If one is the Father, then one is the only true God; Jesus is not the Father; therefore, Jesus is not the only true God". In this case, the fallacy committed is that of denying the antecedent. As above, things would be different if the text would yield: "If and only if one is the Father...". As above, this, too, is ruled out by the text. That much is clear.}

Thus, in saying that the Father is the only true God in John 17:3, the deity of Jesus is neither affirmed nor denied, for it might be that Jesus is one with the Father or that He shares His Father's nature, a claim that Jesus repeatedly makes elsewhere in various ways.

In sum, then, the conclusion at this point must be that the text stands over against Islamic-unitarianism and does not deny the deity of Christ. For these two reasons, we must conclude that John 17:3 is decidedly not an Islamic proof-text.

The Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and Eternal Life

It needs to be said at this point, if Muslims believe this verse is an uncorrupted witness of the truth, for only on that basis would it have been of any value in confirming the (supposed) truths of Islam, then the verse is also authoritative when it is discovered to teach contrary to what Muslims hold near and dear. An authority that is only submitted to when it agrees with what we feel or want to be true is a sham authority; more than this, our submission to it would be a sham submission. Any attempt to reject the authority or integrity of John 17:3 after it is shown to neither support Islam nor confute classical Christian orthodoxy will be ad hoc, showing a radical failure to submit to the authority of God, contrary to the boast of Muslims the world over.

With that being said, three things point up the fact that this verse supports the Trinity and the Deity of Christ: first, it teaches the unity of God, as is manifest by the phrase "you, the only true God"; second, it teaches that the Father and the Son are personally distinct, as is manifest by the phrase "and Jesus Christ whom you have sent"; and third, it teaches that Jesus is God, co-equal with the Father, for, as John Gill put it: "...was he not [God], he would never, as here, join himself with [the Father] the only true God; and besides, eternal life is made to depend as much upon the knowledge of him, as of the Father."2

It is on the third or last point that Muslims would undoubtedly voice the most protest, but several incontrovertible things make it quite impossible for them to base this protest on any revealed or logical grounds.

1. The Conjoining of Father and Son

That the apostolic writings repeatedly join the Father and the Son, as we find here in John 17, can hardly be gainsaid; that they do so in a unique way, one that defies any claim that Christ is a mere creature on a par with Muhammad, is easily attested. It is sufficient in this regard to note just two examples: "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also (1 John 2:23)"; likewise, we are told that all who want to honor the Father will also honor the Son "... even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him." (John 5:23)." This kind of close association between the Father and the Son is tantamount to the sin of shirk in Islamic theology (were it not true), and if it is not, then nothing is.

A number of Muslims seem to recognize this pattern of thought when they refuse to confess the second half of their own creed, i.e., the words pertaining to Muhammad. This was alluded to earlier as one of the perennial disputes between the main body of Muslims and a smaller but growing and vocal group of Muslims known as Submitters who follow the teachings of Rashad Khalifa.3 These Muslims recognize that to associate Muhammad too closely with Allah, as most Muslims seem to do in practice when they repeatedly recite and intensely chant their Shahada, is to run perilously close to making a deity out of Muhammad. They may not call Muhammad God by name, but here the old adage applies: actions speak louder than words. Indeed, outright fetishism for Muhammad is not unknown in the Islamic world and the seeds for it are found right here, not to mention many other places in Islamic teaching.

2. Father and Son are Coordinate Sources of Eternal Life

The close conjoining of Father and Son leads to a further point, or at least to a deepening significance of the previous point. The fact that eternal life consists in a saving knowledge of both the Father and the Son, not one without the other, also bespeaks the closest possible relation between them. Also, it should be observed that the kind of knowledge spoken of here is not purely propositional or notional but involves a deeply personal and experiential component. To have eternal life is to have a deep, personal relationship with or knowledge of both the Father and the Son. And John 17 asserts that knowing the Father unto eternal life is not possible apart from simultaneously knowing and having fellowship with the Son, and says that having fellowship with the Son is having what the Son has had (i.e., fellowship) with the Father from all eternity. This very clearly assumes the loftiest conception of Christ.

This understanding is confirmed elsewhere by the apostle John, who is the same divinely commissioned apostle that recorded the words of Christ that are found in John 17. To take one example, John said the following in his first epistle:

"What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life - and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us - what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete." (vss. 1-4)

3. Contextually Relevant Considerations

Although the Muslim creed does not have a context to safeguard it from misinterpretation,4 Christ’s statement in John 17:3 is part of a larger context. The context of John 17:3 therefore becomes relevant to gleaning a proper understanding of the verse. And the context very clearly teaches that Christ pre-existed his incarnation - at which time, and in connection with taking human nature upon Himself, he was given authority to wield, words to speak, a work to do, and people to save – and not only so, but he pre-existed from eternity, before the world was, and in glory, the same glory that the Father has. Indeed, not only did Jesus exist in glory, a glory on full display in eternity but cloaked during the time of his suffering, but, upon accomplishing the God-glorifying and man-saving work that he came to perform, He was going to return to and in turn be glorified by the Father. To read it more in context, it becomes quite apparent that Jesus puts Himself forth as vastly greater than any mere creature:

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was."

In fact, anyone who can read John 17 and still hold that these are the words of someone who thinks he was just another person on a par with all other creatures and even the best of prophets is invited to read the passage again and mentally insert the name of Muhammad in the place of Christ and see if it doesn’t (appropriately) strike them as blasphemous.

The Contrast and the Conclusion

As has been demonstrated, these two "creeds" are worlds apart. Unlike the words of Christ in John 17:3 which Muslims so often lay claim to, the Muhammadan creed knows nothing of the Fatherhood of God, the divine Sonship of Jesus, or that saving knowledge and intimate fellowship with the Father and the Son that belongs to those who believe. Furthermore, unlike confessing the Father and the Son, confessing Allah and Muhammad bring no assured word of salvation, no promise of eternal life, something the Muslim creed conspicuously, but nonetheless appropriately, lacks.

In the end, Allah turns out to be an idol and Muhammad a worthless prophet, for to know the one through the word of the other brings no promise or assurance of eternal life; indeed, in Islam, where Allah does not beget neither is He begotten, the very quality of eternal life is anathematized, for according to Christ it consists of fellowship with the Father and the Son and Muslims do not know either one.

"And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:20)

As the true God, Christ’s is the true Shahada. "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3) To confess this with your mouth and believe this in your heart means life eternal.


Originally published on Anthony Roger's blog, Semper Paratus, this article was updated and expanded for publication on Answering Islam.


1 Accessed on the following website:

2 Found in John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, which can be found here:

3 For an example of what Submitters contend, see these articles:,

4 Although John 17:3 appears in the Bible that Christians look to as the inspired Word of God, the Islamic creed finds no place as such in the Qur’an, the book Muslims believe to be the word of their god – Allah, see footnote 3.

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