Titles of Honour given to Jesus in the Koran

 

The Koran gives Jesus several titles. To some extent they sound like biblical terms. A closer examination, however, shows how little mutual understanding we can expect, even if the Koran uses phrases that correspond to Christian expressions. We need to explain a great deal from the Bible if we want to share with Muslims who Jesus really is.

The most important titles that the Koran bestows on Jesus are mentioned in the context of a dispute Muhammad had with the “People of the Book” (Sura 4:171+172):

O you people of the Book (Jews and Christians), do not exaggerate in your religion, and tell the truth about God. Jesus Christ, the son of Mary is only the messenger of God and his word that he brought to Mary, and a spirit from him. So believe in God and his apostle. And do not say: Three. Stop this; that is better for you.  God is after all an only God. Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son …Christ will certainly not refuse to serve and worship God with aversion…”

 

  1. Messiah (al-masih): Nowhere does the Koran go into the meaning of the title Al-Masih (Messiah). It is sometimes partly treated as a component of a name without further content, other times simply used instead of “Jesus” (e.g. Sura 5:72). Individual Koran interpreters definitely know its meaning – “the anointed one”. They interpret this term in two ways: Jesus was anointed with God’s blessing; his anointing means his sinlessness or his calling as a prophet. The Koran does not recognize Jesus as the promised “Anointed One” in the Old Testament who brings salvation and redemption to his people.

 

  1. Son of Mary (ibn maryam): Naming a son after the mother usually has a negative connotation, for it is only done when the father is unknown. The Koran though emphasizes Maria’s integrity (21:89) and confirms the biblical teaching of the virgin birth (3:47). At the same time, however, it highlights that Jesus and his mother were nothing other than human beings: “Both used to eat food” (5:75). So on one hand the Koran testifies to the uniqueness of Christ’s birth, but on the other hand it denies that this has any association with, or is a sign of Jesus’ special mission or even of his divine sonship.

 

  1. God’s Messenger (rasul allah): By stating that Jesus was only God’s messenger, the Koran combats the exaggeration of Christians who want to see him as somewhat higher than Muhammad. Islam thinks it greatly honours Jesus with the title “God’s messenger” or “prophet” (19:30). He was, however, only granted a limited mission to the twelve tribes of Israel. Part of his assignment was to announce the coming of the final prophet, Muhammad.

 

  1. Word of God (kalimat-hu): According to many Koran interpreters this title means that Jesus was created by the word or God’s command; it testifies primarily to God’s omnipotence. The Koran underlines this: “Before God, it was the same with Jesus as with Adam. He created him from earth and then said to him: Be! And he was” (3:59). Others explain this title by saying that Jesus brought the word of God to mankind. The biblical view, not shared by the Koran, is that Jesus in person with his whole life and death is the vital Word of God for all humanity and as “Word of God” has been with God from all eternity.

 

  1. A Spirit from God (ruhun minhu): In Islam this phrase means that Jesus was conceived by Maria as a result of the breathing of the divine spirit (21:91). In various places (2:87+253; 5:110) the Koran speaks about Allah strengthening Jesus by the spirit of holiness, thus enabling him to do miracles.

 

  1. Servant/Slave of God (abd allah): This title basically places Jesus on the same level as everybody else (19:93). The expression “Slave of God” is not humiliating or degrading but, in both a koranic and biblical sense, points to the high calling of man to serve God. The Koran, however, knows nothing of the substitutionary suffering of God’s servant (Isaiah 53) nor of the Son of God humbling himself and taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7).

 

Further titles for Jesus mentioned in the Koran are: the righteous (6:85); the esteemed and one brought near to God (3:45); an example (43:59); the witness (4:159).

 

Also of crucial importance is what the Koran does not say about Jesus or what titles it vehemently refutes: The rejection of the Trinity and the divine sonship are clearly expressed in Sura 4:171. Other texts emphasise in similar fashion: He is not Allah (5:17) and he is not the Son of God (9:30). (The rejection of Jesus’ divine sonship in Islam, among other reasons, is based on the misunderstanding of a sexual conception.)

 

The koranic titles given to Jesus actually elevate him above all other prophets. That causes some Muslims to want to learn more about Jesus. Islamic theologians though have interpreted each title in such a way that Jesus fits fully into the Islamic understanding of prophethood. Despite these honourable titles, the Koran knows nothing about Jesus coming to earth as God’s promised Christ; who as son and servant was obedient to death on the cross, who gave his life “as a ransom for many” and in whom God revealed himself.

 

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