Islam, as the religion that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), is younger than Judaism and Christianity. It perceives it self as the completion of the line of prophecy both in message and person; humanity was ready for the final revelation and final prophet. Islam is inclusive and, therefore, the Islamic creed would be incomplete without believing in all the prophets who were mentioned in the Qur’an, including those of the Children of Israel. The essential monotheistic messages that were revealed before Islam are also included in what a Muslim believes “Say: We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and what was given to Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord; we do not make any distinction between any of them and to Him do we submit.” Qur’an, 3:84 It is no wonder that Paul Schwarzenau, in Korankunde für Christen, referred to the Qur’an as an ecumenical revelation. Compatible with Schwarzenau’s idea, is the Islamic paradigm for convivencia amongst the children of Abraham and beyond.
Religious scholars have long attributed the tenets of Christian faith more to Paul’s teachings than to those of Jesus. But as much as I would like to jump into that subject, I think it best to back up and take a quick, speculative look at the Old Testament.
The Old Testament teaches that Jacob wrestled with God. In fact, the Old Testament records that Jacob not only wrestled with God, but that Jacob prevailed (Genesis 32:24-30). Now, bear in mind, we’re talking about a tiny blob of protoplasm wrestling the Creator of a universe 240,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles in diameter, containing over a billion galaxies of which ours—the Milky Way Galaxy—is just one (and a small one, at that), and prevailing? I’m sorry, but someone was a couple pages short of a codex when they scribed that passage. The point is, however, that this passage leaves us in a quandary. We either have to question the Jewish concept of God or accept their explanation that “God” does not mean “God” in the above verses, but rather it means either an angel or a man (which, in essence, means the Old Testament is not to be trusted). In fact, this textual difficulty has become so problematic that more recent Bibles have tried to cover it up by changing the translation from “God” to “man.” What they cannot change, however, is the foundational scripture from which the Jewish Bible is translated, and this continues to read “God.”
(Recollections of a convert to Islam)
When I was a child, growing up in the sixties and seventies just a few blocks away from the notorious Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, I was surrounded by the hippie movement. It was a “turn on, tune in, drop out” age of sexual freedom, cultural revolution and social recklessness.
Happily, I was never caught up in the hippie movement, but being so close to it, I could not help but observe its development. One thing I clearly remember is how many hippies were labeled “Jesus freaks.” As I surf my childhood memories, nearly four decades later, this euphemism strikes me as having been decidedly peculiar. These hippies were considered “Jesus freaks” because they dressed as Jesus did, grew their hair as he did, renounced materialism as he did, and propagated devotion to God, peace, charity and communal love.
Now, many whom embarked upon this path fell into hallucinogenic drug use and wanton sexual proclivities—practices which are far from the example of Jesus—but this is not why these hippies were called Jesus freaks. Rather, they were called Jesus freaks for their long hair, loose clothing, asceticism, communal unity and passivism, all a result of their effort to live like Jesus. The House of Love and Prayer, located nearby in the avenues, was a collecting point for many of these well-meaning souls, and the title of the institution reflected their focus in life.
Christian clergy openly acknowledge that Jesus never called himself “son of God,” however they claim that others did. This too has an answer.
Investigating the manuscripts that make up the New Testament, one finds that the alleged “sonship” of Jesus is based upon the mistranslation of two Greek words—pais and huios, both of which are translated as “son.” However, this translation appears disingenuous. The Greek word pais derives from the Hebrew ebed, which bears the primary meaning of servant, or slave. Hence, the primary translation of pais theou is “servant of God,” with “child” or “son of God” being an extravagant embellishment. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, “The Hebrew original of pais in the phrase pais theou, i.e., ebed, carries a stress on personal relationship and has first the sense of ‘slave.’” This is all the more interesting because it dovetails perfectly with the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1, upheld in Matthew 12:18: “Behold, My servant [i.e., from the Greek pais] whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased …” Whether a person reads the King James Version, New King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, or New International Version, the word is “servant” in all cases. Considering that the purpose of revelation is to make the truth of God clear, one might think this passage an unsightly mole on the face of the doctrine of divine sonship. After all, what better place for God to have declared Jesus His son? What better place to have said, “Behold, My son whom I have begotten …”? But He didn’t say that. For that matter, the doctrine lacks biblical support in the recorded words of both Jesus and God, and there is good reason to wonder why. Unless, that is, Jesus was nothing more than the servant of God this passage describes.
“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is
that a cat has only nine lives.”
—Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar
Son of God, son of David, or son of Man? Jesus is identified as “son of David” fourteen times in the New Testament, starting with the very first verse (Matthew 1:1). The Gospel of Luke documents forty-one generations between Jesus and David, while Matthew lists twenty-six. Jesus, a distant descendant, can only wear the “son of David” title metaphorically. But how then should we understand the title, “son of God?”
The “Trilemma,” a common proposal of Christian missionaries, states that “Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or the Son of God, as he claimed to be.” For the sake of argument, let’s agree that Jesus was neither a lunatic nor a liar. Let’s also agree he was precisely what he claimed to be. But what, exactly, was that? Jesus called himself “Son of Man” frequently, consistently, perhaps even emphatically, but where did he call himself “Son of God?”
Let’s back up. What does “Son of God” mean in the first place? No legitimate Christian sect suggests that God took a wife and had a child, and most certainly none conceive that God fathered a child through a human mother outside of marriage. Furthermore, to suggest that God physically mated with an element of His creation is so far beyond the limits of religious tolerance as to plummet down the sheer cliff of blasphemy, chasing the mythology of the Greeks.
With no rational explanation available within the tenets of Christian doctrine, the only avenue for closure is to claim yet one more doctrinal mystery. Here is where the Muslim recalls the question posed in the Quran:
“…How can He have a son when He has no consort?…” (Quran 6:101)