"The Christ of History brings the cardinal problem of religion down from the clouds of speculation to the world of hard and prosaic and determinable facts, and that is a dangerous place for either things or persons to stand who are not what they seem. Criticism must handle and speak of all who stand there, the more strenuously if they make extraordinary claims on the faith and reverence of all men and times; and the now white, now lurid lights it creates enable those piercing an pitiless eyes that love to see the distant past unbury its dread secrets and make confession of its forgotten crimes, to search the period or person on which they fall. That Jesus Christ has so long stood amid those burning lights and before those curious eyes tells an eloquent tale of the quality of His person and the reality of His character. The love of earth has looked at Him till it has grown Divine, the thought of man has studied Him till it has become reverent. The coldest criticism is touched with reverence when it stands before the supreme Person of history, finding Him to be also the supreme Good of man." — A. M. Fairbairn (The City of God).

AMONG all Orientals, but especially among the Semites, a deep significance is attached to names. This is evident not only from the Bible, but from the practice among the Arabs of to-day. Names, surnames, nicknames, and appellatives are bestowed upon men and places with the intent of expressing the very character of the person or thing named. In considering, therefore, the teaching of the Koran and Moslem tradition concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, we begin first of all by mentioning the names that are applied to Him in Mohammed's Book, and that are therefore those most commonly used among Moslems. In fact, it would be quite inadmissible for an orthodox Moslem to use any other terms in relation to Jesus Christ than those used in the Koran. We give the names in the order of their importance and the frequency of their usage.

‘ISA (Jesus). — This name, the most commonly used among Moslems, generally with the prefix Nebi (prophet) and often with the addition "Son of Mary," is used twenty-five times in the quran Koran, as follows:—

Surah 2:81. We gave Moses the Book and we followed him up with other apostles, and we gave Jesus the son of Mary manifest signs and aided him with the Holy Spirit.

Surah 2:130. Say ye, "We believe in God, and what has been revealed to us, and what has been revealed to Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the Tribes, and what was brought to Moses and Jesus."

Surah 2:254. And we have given Jesus the son of Mary manifest signs and strengthened him by the Holy Spirit.

Surah 3:40. When the angel said, "O Mary! verily God gives thee the glad tidings of a Word from him; his name shall be Messiah Jesus the son of Mary, regarded in this world and the next and of those whose place is nigh to God."

Surah 3:45. And when Jesus perceived their unbelief, he said, "Who are my helpers for God?"

Surah 3:48. When God said, "O Jesus! I will make thee die and take thee up again to me, and will clear thee of those who misbelieve, and will make those who follow thee above those who misbelieve, at the day of judgment, then to me is your return."

Surah 3:52. Verily the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam.

Surah 3:78. Say, "We believe in God, and what has been revealed to thee, 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."

Surah 4:156. Their saying, "Verily, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of God," ... but they did not kill him.

Surah 4:161. Verily, we have inspired thee as we inspired Abraham, and Ishmael, and Jacob, and the tribes, and Jesus.

Surah 4:169. The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, is but the apostle of God and His Word, which He cast into Mary and a spirit from Him.

Surah 5:50. And we followed up the footsteps of these (prophets) with Jesus the son of Mary, confirming that which was before him and the law.

Surah 5:82. Those of the children of Israel who disbelieved were cursed by the tongue of David and Jesus the son of Mary.

Surah 5:109. When God said, "O Jesus, son of Mary! remember my favours towards thee and towards thy mother."

Surah 5:112. When the apostles said, "O Jesus, son of Mary! is thy Lord able to send down to us a table from heaven?"

Surah 5:114. Said Jesus, the son of Mary, "O God, our Lord! send down to us a table from heaven to be to us as a festival. ..."

Surah 5:116. And when God said, "O Jesus, son of Mary! is it thou who didst say to men, take me and my mother for two gods, beside God?"

Surah 6:85. And Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elias, all righteous ones.

Surah 19:35. That is, Jesus the son of Mary, — by the word of truth whereon ye do dispute.

Surah 33:7. And when we took of the prophets their compact, from thee and from Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus the son of Mary ... that He might ask the truth-tellers of their truth.

Surah 42:11. He has enjoined upon you for religion what He prescribed to Noah, and what we inspired thee with, and what we inspired Abraham and Moses and Jesus.

Surah 43:63. And when Jesus came with manifest signs he said, "I am come to you with wisdom, and I will explain to you something of that whereon ye did dispute, then fear God, obey me. ..."

Surah 57:27. And we followed them up with Jesus the son of Mary; and we gave him the gospel.

Surah 61:6. And when Jesus the son of Mary said, "O children of Israel! verily, I am the apostle of God."

Surah 6:14. O ye who believe! be ye the helpers of God! as Jesus, son of Mary, said to the apostles, "Who are my helpers for God?"

It is interesting to note that among these twenty-five places in the Koran where ‘Isa is used, in sixteen of them He is called the son of Mary; and in five passages His name is coupled with Moses (Musa), the great prophet of the old Dispensation. Isidor Loewenthal, who was a Semitic scholar and a missionary on the Afghan frontier, thought that the coupling of the name of Jesus with that of Moses in the Koran might be the reason for the form of the name, to correspond with other rhymes of that character; e.g., Harut and Marut, Habil and Kabil, etc.[1] Of the etymology and significance of this name, however, we will speak later.

EL MESSIH. — This name, The Messiah, sometimes joined to that of Jesus and sometimes used by itself, occurs in the Koran eight times in the following passages:—

Surah 3:40. See above.

Surah 4:156. See above.

Surah 4:169. See above.

Surah 4:170. The Messiah doth surely not disdain to be a servant of God, nor do the angels who are nigh to Him; and whosoever disdains His service and is too proud, He will gather them altogether to Himself.

Surah 5:19. They misbelieve who say, "Verily God is the Messiah the son of Mary;" say, "Who has any hold on God, if he wished to destroy the Messiah the son of Mary, and his mother, and those who are on the earth altogether?"[1]

Surah 5:76. They misbelieve who say, "Verily, God is the Messiah the son of Mary;" but the Messiah said, "O children of Israel! worship God, my Lord and your Lord."

Surah 5:79. The Messiah the son of Mary is only a prophet: prophets before him have passed away; and his mother was a confessor; they both used to eat food.

Surah 9:30. The Jews say Ezra is the son of God, and the Christians say that the Messiah is the son of God; that is what they say with their mouths, imitating the sayings of those who misbelieved before. God fight them! how they lie![2]

In one of the passages above quoted (Surah 4:170) there seems to be a reference to the title of the Messiah in Isaiah as the servant of Jehovah. Mohammed may have learned of this name from the Jews, although Surah 9:30 (see above) seems to indicate very clearly that the title of the Messiah was coupled in the mouth of Christians with the words the Son of God. It is probable, therefore, that both names were learned from the lips of Christians rather than from those of the Jews, and we are confirmed in this belief by the use of the third name in the Koran, namely, the Word of God.

KALIMET ALLAH (The Word of God). — This is used in the Koran twice in direct reference to Christ. In other passages it occurs, but not as one of the names of the Messiah. In the following cases the reference is clear:—

Surah 3:40. See above.

Surah 4:169. See above.

In these two passages Jesus Christ is clearly referred to as the Word of God and as a Word from God; and modern Arabic usage clearly distinguishes between the Word of God in the sense of Holy Writ, which is always referred to as Kalâm Allah, and the Word of God as His Messenger, which is Kalimet Allah. There are, however, only these two passages in which this New Testament title is given to our Saviour.

The title given to Moses is Kalîm Allah, and the common explanation is that Moses was the mouthpiece of God in the sense that God spake to him, and made him His special confidant; but Jesus is the Kalimet Allah, or Word of God, because He communicates God's word, God's will to men.

RUH ALLAH (Spirit of God, or more correctly, Spirit from God). — This title is used in the Koran once concerning Jesus Christ (Surah 4:169, quoted above), but the commentators are not agreed as to its real significance, and whether it is a name that can be applied to Jesus Christ, or whether the passage simply signifies that Jesus, with all other mortals, was partaker of the creative Spirit of God.

In addition to these four names which are specially applied to Jesus Christ in the Koran, He is also know by the common titles of Nabi (prophet) and Rasûl (apostle).

Surah 19:30. (Where Jesus speaks from the cradle, using these words), Verily, I am the servant of God, He has brought me the Book, and He has made me a prophet, and He has made me blessed wherever I be.

Surah 57:27. See above.

Surah 4:169. See above.

The number of prophets and apostles sent by God, according to Moslem teaching, amounts to 124,000. Others say 240,000, and others 100,000. These statements show that the words, prophet and apostle, in Moslem usage have not the same dignity, which we infer from their usage in the Old and New Testaments. Three hundred and thirteen are said to have been apostles who came with a special mission. A prophet, according to Moslem teaching, is a man inspired by God, but not sent with a special dispensation or book; while an apostle is one who comes either with a special dispensation or to whom a special book has been revealed. All apostles are prophets, but not all prophets are apostles. Jesus was both. According to the commentators this is the definition of a prophet: "A prophet must be a male[3] person, free, not a slave, of the sons of Adam; of sound mind and without bodily defect or disease, to whom has been revealed a revelation which he himself accepts; nor must he come with a message before he is of age."[4]

The qualifications of a prophet are four:—

1. Faithfulness. — That is, during his work as a prophet he is kept from the commission of any outward sinful act. The sinlessness of all the prophets has become a favourite dogma of Islam, in spite of the Koran testimony regarding the sins of many of the prophets, including Mohammed himself.

2. Truthfulness. — They speak the truth in accordance with the real state of the case, or at all events, in accordance with what they believe to be the truth.

3. Sagacity, or intelligence, enabling them to silence objectors or opponents. This quality the apostles are said to possess in much higher degree than the prophets.

4. The Delivery of their Message. — In other words, they must on no account conceal what God has revealed to them.

Because Jesus Christ was an apostle and a prophet He also had the power of working miracles, as we shall see in a later chapter.

In order to understand the title prophet and apostle ascribed to Jesus, we must remember that the highest in rank among the prophets and apostles is said to be Mohammed. He is considered not only the greatest prophet and apostle, but the most excellent of all created things. After him come Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. These four are distinguished by the title, ‘Ulu-el-‘Azîm, possessors of constancy or endowed with a purpose. This name was taken from Surah 46:34. "Then do thou be patient as the apostles endowed with a purpose were patient, and hastened not on their punishment." Six of the company of the prophets are classed apart by Moslems and said to have brought in new dispensations and a new law, and they therefore have each of them a special title.

Adam: Safi Allah (Chosen of God); Noah: Nebi Allah (prophet of God); Abraham: Khalil Allah (the friend of God); Moses: Kalîm Allah (the mouthpiece of God); Jesus, Ruh Allah (Spirit of God); Mohammed, Rasul Allah (the apostle of God). It is clear from the above and at the very outset of our investigation that Jesus Christ does not occupy the supreme place, but at the best ranks only with Abraham, Moses, and Mohammed.

We turn now to consider what significance is attached to the proper names given by Moslems to our Lord, both as regards their form and their etymology.

The question why Mohammed used the word ‘Isa instead of Yesu‘a, is more easily asked than answered. It is a stumbling-block to every Moslem convert who reads the Arabic Scriptures. Kamil Abd al Messiah, writing to Dr. Jessup from Aden after his conversion to Christianity, says: "Will you kindly send me a reply to this question: Why is Jesus styled ‘Isa in the Moslem books, and did this name exist among the Arabs before muhammad Mohammed's time during the days of Ignorance?"[5]

Dr. Jessup in his reply called attention to some of the explanations given. The first among them is that there is no particular significance in the form of the word, and that Mohammed invented it as a rhyming couplet to the name of Moses (Musa), in the same way as he changed the name of Goliath to Jalut, and that of Saul to Talut, apparently as a matter of rhythm, in the second chapter of the Koran (verses 248-253); and the names of the sons of Adam to Habil and Kabil in Moslem usage for Cain and Abel; or as he used the fanciful names, Harut and Marut, for the names of angels who taught men sorcery (Surah 2:96). The difficulty with this theory is, as we have seen, that only in five cases is the name ‘Isa joined to that of Musa in the Koran text. In every other case there is no apparent reason for this particular form of the word because of the rhythm.

A second explanation given by some Arabic lexicographers is that the word has been deliberately formed by inverting the order of the letters in the Hebrew word Yesu‘a. This explanation seems forced; nor can it be satisfactorily explained by the laws of etymology, for in reversing the letters not only are the vowels altered, but one of the weak consonants must be changed in Yesu‘a to make ‘Isa. Beidhawi in his Commentary asserts that ‘Isa is the Arabic form of the Hebrew Yesu‘a, and goes on to say that it comes from a root Al-‘Ayos, which signifies white mingled with red.[6]

A fourth explanation is offered by Dr. Otto Pautz.[7] "The Koran expression ‘Isa corresponds with the Hebrew Esau, the name of the brother of Jacob (Israel). Because his descendants all through their history stood hostile over against the Israelities, who were the people of the promise, the later Jews caricatured the name of Jesus by making it Esau. Mohammed took this form of Esau from the Jews at Medina, without being conscious of the sinister import connected with the name in their minds." We would like further proofs of this ingenious theory before accepting it, although it appears most plausible in view of all that Mohammed borrowed and adapted from Judaism.[8]

In regard to the name El Messih, although this term is evidently taken from the Hebrew and has the Hebrew significance of the anointed, the Moslems explain it differently. Bringing everything back to Arabic roots, they connect it with the word Sah (to wander, to go on pilgrimage), and say it is the intensive form of that root, and that Jesus was the leader of wanderers, "Iman al sa‘yihin." The homelessness of Jesus has always strongly impressed itself on the Mohammedan imagination. C. H. A. Field relates:[9] Once on entering a Pathan village, I was met by a youth who asked, "Is this verse in the Injil: ‘The Son of Mary had nowhere to lay His head’?" In the Kusus-al-anbiya (Stories of the Prophets) this takes the following grotesque shape:—

One day Jesus saw a fox roaming through the wilderness. He said to him, "O fox! whither art thou going?" The fox answered, "I have come out for exercise; now I am returning to my own home." Jesus said, "Every one has built himself a house; but for Me there is no resting-place." Some people who heard it said, "We are sorry for Thee, and will build Thee a house." He replied, "I have no money." They answered, "We will pay all the expenses." Then He said, "Very well, I will choose the site." He led them down to the edge of the sea and, pointing where the waves were dashing highest, said, "Build Me a house there." The people said, "That is the sea, O Prophet! how can we build there?" "Yea, and is not the world a sea," He answered, "on which no one can raise a building that abides?"

A similar echo of Christ's words is found in the famous inscription over a bridge at Fatehpur Sikri: "Jesus (upon whom be peace) said, ‘The world is a bridge; pass over it, but do not build upon it.’"[10]

Although this explanation of the word Moslems have generally adopted is ingenious, it is evidently an attempt to escape from the ordinary significance of the root. Even in his Arabic dictionary Fairozabadi gives the name Messih under the Arabic root Masaha, to anoint, but states that this name was given to Jesus Christ because He was often on journeys, and did not spend His days in one place. Concerning other derivations he says there are no less than fifty explanations enumerated by him in his book Masharik Al Anwar.[11]

The Moslem interpretation of the name of Jesus, Kalimet Allah, has already been given. In Surah 19:35, He is called Kaul ul Hak, the Word of Truth. An argument can easily be based on these expressions for the eternal nature of Jesus Christ and His supreme office, but it is doubtful whether most Moslems would admit its force. Dr. W. St. Clair Tisdall rightly says:[12] "The term Kalimah (λογος, word, speech) denotes the expression of what is in the mind of the speaker, who in this case is God Most High. If Christ were a Word of God, it would be clear that He was only one expression of God's will; but since God Himself calls Him "the Word of God," it is clear that He must be the one and only perfect expression of God's will, and the only perfect manifestation of God. It was through Him that the prophets spoke when He sent them His Holy Spirit. Since then the title Kalimatu ’llâh shows that Christ only can reveal God to men. It is clear that He Himself must know God and His Will perfectly."

In closing this account of the names of Jesus Christ in the Koran and their significance, there are two more expressions to which we must call attention.

The first of these occurs in Surah 21:91, where Mary is referred to, and the statement is made, "We made her and her Son a sign unto the worlds." The use of the singular instead of the plural in this connection brings to mind the name of our Saviour in Isaiah's prophecy, Wonderful. Beidhawi's comment on this text is an evident attempt to minimise the significance of the expression. He says: "We made her and her Son a sign unto the worlds; that is, the story of their life or their condition, for whosoever thinks of their condition is convinced of the perfection of power in God Most High, Who is the Creator."

The other occurs in Surah 3:40: When the angel said, "O Mary! verily, God gives thee the glad tidings of a Word from Him; His name shall be The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, Illustrious in this world and the next, and of those whose place is nigh unto God." If Moslems were willing to admit all that these words imply, it would not be difficult to prove that in this passage of the Koran the person and character of Jesus Christ are superior to those of all other prophets and apostles. The commentator Beidhawi, commenting on this passage, uses these remarkable words: "His illustriousness in this world is the gift of prophecy, and in the world to come, the power of intercession; and ‘whose place is nigh to God’ signifies His high position in Paradise, or the fact that He was raised up to heaven and enjoys the companionship of the angels."[13]


1 Loewenthal, Isidor. The Name ‘Isa: An Investigation. Calcutta, 1861. Reprinted in The Moslem World (London), vol. i. No. 3.

2 Palmer's comment on this curious passage is as follows: "The Moslem tradition is that Ezra, after being dead a hundred years, was raised to life, and dictated from memory the whole of the Jewish Scriptures which had been lost during the captivity, and that the Jews said he would not have done this unless he had been the son of God. There is no Jewish tradition whatever in support of this accusation of Mohammed's, which probably was entirely due to his own invention or to misinformation. Baidhawi, the well-known commentator, says that it must have been true, because the Jews themselves, to whom the passage was read, did not deny it."

3 Maryam, Eve, and Sarah are admitted by some Moslems among the list of prophets, but it is contrary to the teaching of the leading commentators. Cf. El Jowhara, "No female ever was a prophet" (Klein, Religion of Islam, p. 74).

4 El Jowhara, quoted in Klein, The Religion of Islam, p. 72.

5 Jessup, Rev. H. H., Kamil, p. 122. Philadelphia, 1898.

6 Beidhawi, vol. i. p. 96. He also gives curious, but unchaste, derivation of the name of Jesus' mother, Mary: "Hooa bil Arabiya min el nisa ka el zir min er rijal, etc." On the derivation of ‘Isa, cf. Fairozabadi's Kamoos, vol. i. p. 125, and Katr ul Muhit (Beirut), vol. ii. p. 1478. And on Zir, vol. i. p. 874.

7 Pautz, Otto. Muhammed's Lehre von der Offenbarung, p. 191. Leipzig, 1898.

8 Geiger, Abraham, Judaism and Islam, Madras, 1898; Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? Bonn, 1833.

9 Church Missionary Review, July 1910.

10 Church Missionary Review, July 1910.

11 Fairozabadi, Kamoos, vol. i. p. 156; cf. Beidhawi on Surah 3:40.

12 Revised Mizanu’l Haqq, p. 185. London, 1910.

13 Beidhawi on Surah 3:40.

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