Is Isa merely a Messenger or God Incarnate?

Farooq Ibrahim

While being a Muslim in the late 1980’s, and seeking the truth within Islam, I was faced with a number of challenges as I tried to reach out and invite Christians to the truth of the Quran and Islam. One such challenge was the belief that Jesus Christ, or Isa of the Quran, was God Incarnate. The Quran claims Isa was a Messenger, none the less one of the greatest Prophets. Since this came from the Quran, I believed this as fact. Beyond being a messenger and prophet, I believed the divine claims by Christians were simply excesses that the church leaders in general and Paul in particular popularized. Since this belief was a foundational aspect of Christianity, I started studying it with the intent to prove to the Christians that Isa was neither God in the flesh, nor a Son of God, but rather a great Prophet. In this context I wanted to provide evidence to them from the Quran, Hadith and from their own Bible, specifically the Gospel accounts and history, that this belief of Isa being God to be a foreign concept and the explanation by Christians of the Trinity weak and unsupportable. My goal was for the Christians in my life to accept Islam as the true and final religion and the Quran as the eternal guide for their life.

I therefore spent much time studying this topic, armed primarily with the Quran, the Bible and other supporting works by Muslims and some non-Muslims. I was clear about some very basic assertions of Islamic teaching regarding the oneness of Allah. After the Fatiha (Surah 1), which is the main prayer for guidance for a Muslim, the Surah Ikhlas (Surah 112) that I learnt and recited more than any other is that of Allah’s unity.

Surah 112:1-4

Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;
Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;
He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;
And there is none like unto Him.

In my religious studies as a Muslim, I recall my teachers saying that this Surah was as weighty as a third of the entire Quran regarding the doctrine of God, since the uncompromising unity of God is the cornerstone of Islamic belief. I was convinced that the Christians who considered Isa as the Son of God were on a path to damnation. Again, as I saw it, it was simply a matter of expediency by the Christian Church of old to integrate pagan practices to assimilate Greek and Roman culture. Paul and not Isa, as I saw it, was the big proponent of pushing this false doctrine. Note what Allah says in the Quran regarding Isa being the Son of God

Surah 9:30

The Jews call 'Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!

Not only does the Quran emphatically deny it but also adds that Allah’s curse will rest upon those who believe this false doctrine. In addition to believing in Isa being God the Son, the Christians believe in God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, which is labeled by the Church as Trinity. Note again what the Quran teaches about the Trinity.

Surah 5:73

They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.

The Quran is clear beyond a shadow of doubt that Isa was a great human messenger of Allah and the son of Mary, not of Allah as we check further into the following ayah.

Surah 4:171

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not "Trinity": desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs.

Also from the Sahih Hadith of Bukhari where emphasis is that Isa is the son of Mary.

Volume 3, Book 34, Number 425:

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, son of Mary (Jesus) will shortly descend amongst you people (Muslims) as a just ruler and will break the Cross and kill the pig and abolish the Jizya (a tax taken from the non-Muslims, who are in the protection, of the Muslim government). Then there will be abundance of money and nobody will accept charitable gifts.

Hence, I was ready with this knowledge to challenge the Bible and their teachers with the truth that I believed to be from Allah. While most of the Christians would share with me verses from the Bible that showed his divine nature or attributes, I would respond with items not only from the Quran as I have discussed above, but also from their own Bible that showed his human nature and attributes. For example note in the next two verses from the Injeel account by Matthew where Isa "became hungry" and "was asleep" - needs of a human being, not of God.

Matthew 4:1-2

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.

Matthew 8:23-24

When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep.

However, there were many places in the Injeel accounts regarding Isa’s claim of being divine. I was shocked to find that in these accounts the words are directly attributed to Isa and not Paul. All along in my understanding from the teachers of Islam was that it was not Isa, but Paul and the church leaders that pushed this ideology. Therefore, I was much surprised that Isa himself was making claims that are attributable only to God. Here are a few examples of the areas about which I had many discussions with Christians.

Isa having authority to forgives sins

In the Injeel account by Matthew, Isa forgives sins and causes quite a commotion among the Jews.

Matthew 9:1-8

Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven." And some of the scribes said to themselves, "This fellow blasphemes." And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--then He said to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up your bed and go home." And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

The challenge of these verses from the Injeel is twofold. First, does Isa have authority to forgive sins because he is divine, or because God has chosen to give him this authority as he is only a human? Secondly, the question is whether the phrase Son of Man is a Prophetic title that identifies him with God based on the Prophecies of Prophet Daniel found in the Torah, or Isa’s identification with humans.

As a Muslim, I believed both of these challenges pointed to Isa’s simply being human. That is how most Muslim scholars view it too. Also, it is clear from the context that the crowds thought that he was a human. Note, however, the attitude of the religious men (Scribes) who understood the Torah and the prophecies in the book of Daniel and were experts in religious matters. They considered Isa as claiming to be God. Note also that Isa then addresses them specifically as he proves the claim that he has authority to forgive sins and thereby supported his claim by healing the man. Even though I sided with the crowds, I wondered if the Scribes who understood God's Law from the Torah and the prophecies of Prophet Daniel were correct? I decided to look at what the Quran says about who can forgive sins?

Surah 4:48

Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgiveth anything else, to whom He pleaseth; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin Most heinous indeed.

Based on the above ayah, it is clear that the Quran sides with the Scribes as only Allah has authority to forgive sins and thus indirectly supports the fact that Isa is making a claim to be God. But, on the other hand, the same ayah tells us the worst of all sins is to associate partner with Allah as Isa has done! This caused quite a tension in my understanding of Isa’s claim to do something that only God has authority to do – forgive sins! But how could Isa have done the miracle as evidence of his claim to forgive sins if he was not who he was claiming to be? I was left at this point not able to support the claim from these verses that Isa was only human.

Isa claims to be greater than and existing before Ibrahim

From the Injeel account of John, we have another very interesting discourse with the Jews. Note what Isa is saying about himself with respect to Prophet Ibrahim.

John 8:51-59

"Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death." The Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, 'If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.' "Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?" Jesus answered, "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, 'He is our God'; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.

This discourse between the Jews and Isa is a very interesting one with many points to consider. The first point is Isa showing a very unique relationship between him and God, whom he calls Father. Here Isa is making a very clear statement of equating himself to God, but also being under the authority of God the Father. The one thing that really upset the monotheistic Jews and also myself is the later portion of Isa being compared to Prophet Ibrahim, where Isa himself claims to not only be superior to Ibrahim, but also to exist before him. The word he uses to denote this is the 'I AM' which is the same word used as the personal name of God in the Torah, thereby equating himself to God and resulting in the Jews picking up stones to throw at him; as he is blaspheming, or to a Muslim, committing shirk – the unpardonable sin of associating others with God. That is why the Jews picked up stones to kill him. Hence I started to note that in the Injeel, Isa was claiming to have two natures - one human as many parts of the Injeel and also the Quran attest to and the other divine, to which only the Injeel attests to in Isa’s own words, and not that of Paul.

At this point I was wondering if the sections of the Injeel, where there are what I considered vague claims of divinity, corrupted? Since like the previous discussion on Isa forgiving sins, the Injeel does make claims for Isa’s divine nature and attributes the teaching directly to Isa and not Paul. I was not satisfied and desired to know more so I continued to study the Injeel to see what else Isa said about this topic of him being divine.

Isa claims unique relationship to God the Father

Matthew 11:25-30

At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

In the first two verses above, the fact that Isa is praising God I assumed to be because of the humanness of Isa. In the next set of verses, however, within the same context, a special relationship and uniqueness of Isa is shown with God the Father and a statement saying to all people that he himself, not God the Father will give rest. This is again at odds with all that we have discussed above about the ayahs from the Quran, and another similar one saying the same.

Surah 5:75

Christ the son of Mary was no more than a messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make His signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!

While the ayah from Surah 5:75 makes it clear that Isa, is no more than a messenger, the verse in Matthew 11:27 - "all things have been handed over to me" implies that Isa claimed divine status, but lower than that of the God the Father. This is very odd, as no human would make such a claim, especially a prophet of God. So at this point it became clear that the more I studied the Injeel, the evidence that Isa was claiming to be God Incarnate was not isolated or vague, but consistently claimed by him. Also in the process as he did this he continually angered the Jews with this outrageous claim. Let us take note what they think of him when Isa claims to have authority over life.

Isa claims authority over life

John 10:14-21

I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father." A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words. Many of them were saying, "He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?" Others were saying, "These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?"

This section from the Injeel account according to John is the teaching of the Good Shepherd. Here a number of points again are being made, the most interesting one to me was Isa having authority to not only lay his life down; but he is claiming to be able to take it up again. Only Allah can give life, and hence Isa is making a very strong statement to his divine nature. This is, of course, picked up by the Jews as a number of them claim that he must be a demon or insane to make such a statement, however other are perplexed that he cannot be insane or a demon, as he was able to heal the blind, and only one from God can do that.

The first point about his knowing the Father and the Father knowing him is again leaning towards a special relationship with God that is exclusive. More so, Allah makes it very clear in the Zabur that he is the Good Shepherd, also we know from the teachings of Islam, only Allah can be considered Good and here Isa takes this absolute attribute only meant for Allah to himself. Hence we are left with the same dilemma the Jews were in - either Isa must be a demon or insane. However like the others, it is true that only one coming from God can do the miracles he was performing.

So here again we are left with the tension of his humanness and a claim of his having divine attributes. The more I studied about Isa from the Injeel the higher was my level of discomfort. In the past I had the understanding that it was the church leaders in general and Paul, through his Epistles in particular, who was a proponent of Isa’s divine nature. But here in the Injeel it is coming from the lips of Isa. I was at this point also puzzled and confused as to the true identity of Isa! Was he both human and divine? How could that be?

As I studied about Isa from Muslim Scholars and looked at how they addressed these difficult passages in the Injeel I found a variety of answers.

As I reviewed what the different scholars had to say and studied for myself the materials in regard to the true identity of Isa, I came to the following conclusions.

It was interesting to find that this dilemma of mine was not unique to me, but that it was also something the people of Isa’s day were dealing with. Here we see their confusion documented in the Injeel.

Matthew 16:13-14

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets."

That is the question that has always been in the minds and thoughts of people throughout the generations since Isa walked the earth, and still is being asked today. The question Isa asked about himself "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Isa than turns to his disciples and asks them since they should know him better than the public at large since they have been sharing their lives with him.

Matthew 16:15-17

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

What was most interesting to me is the response Isa gave to Peter’s answer. That it was his Heavenly Father who revealed that to him. He did not say you are right, or even better give them the answer himself of his divine nature. But that Peter was blessed that this was revealed to him. Then I started to reflect on the whole aspect of Muslim claims that the Injeel is corrupted. If there was going to be corruption of the text by the church, why not simply add a phrase here from Isa’s lips. But there are none. Now the tension in my understanding was growing even more. There is no place in the Injeel Isa makes the claim of divinity by expressing in words that I am God, or Worship Me! But nonetheless, Isa continues to live his life out before the people, identifying himself with divine attributes and doing miracles and saying things that are in the exclusive domain of God.

As we go further through the Injeel accounts of Isa, it becomes clearer that as time went on, Isa became more public with his statements of his divine attributes. At this point, I shifted my attention on Isa’s understanding of the Trinity. I found this in the Injeel account of Matthew.

Isa states the Trinity

Matthew 28:16-20

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

After the resurrection, Isa is receiving worship and clearly stating that all authority is given to him not only on earth, but also in heaven. This is one of the clearest statements of his divine nature along with receiving worship. He further goes on to make the claim of equality in the "singular" name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Hence we reach a point, where we cannot argue with the Injeel accounts, and what Isa himself has clearly stated. We may disagree if he really said it, or if the texts are corrupted, however we cannot deny that these statements are clearly making a claim of being divine and of being equal to God.

Again, when we match this with the record in the Quran we find ourselves at opposite ends of the spectrum as the Quran denies these claims as coming from Isa. Note the ayah below.

Surah 5:116

And behold! Allah will say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah'?" He will say: "Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.

What was very disturbing to note from the above Surah is that Allah is taking Mary as the third God and not the Holy Spirit as the Injeel teaches. Hence one thing became clear in my study of the Injeel is that its concept of Trinity differs greatly from that of the Quran. From the Injeel, the Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Christian Trinity in the Injeel had not replaced the Holy Spirit by Mary. This was quite shocking to find out that the Quranic concept was off. I looked in the Quran and the Hadith, and could not find any place where the Trinity was Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For example, in my study of the Quran what is clear is that the third person of the Trinity was Mary, the mother of Isa and not the Holy Spirit. The earlier Surah 5:75 makes that clear, along with the two below.

Surah 6:101

To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: How can He have a son when He hath no consort? He created all things, and He hath full knowledge of all things.

Surah 72:3

And Exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He has taken neither a wife nor a son.

In addition, unlike my understanding of the Quranic perspective of trinity being three gods in a merely physical and carnal relationship, the Biblical concept of one God is a complex unity. I struggled with this concept of a Tri-Unity; it did not make rational sense. But from the singular name in Matthew 28:19 above and from the many other places in the Injeel, such as the following verse, Isa does claim God is one.

Mark 12:29

Jesus answered, "The foremort is, Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord""

To me mathematically 1+1+1 is 3 not 1. But yet, I could not deny that all that we know and can comprehend about Allah is what he has chosen to reveal about himself. I can accept that Allah is incomprehensible, and the only things I can comprehend about him are what he has chosen to reveal. I was challenged with the Trinity as Isa often spoke of God as the Father, he as the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in such terms as to leave no doubt that all three shared the realm of the divine unity, which the later church leaders labeled as Trinity. To me this would be stretching it mathematically to the concept of infinity – this is reasonable as God’s attribute and nature are incomprehensible and infinite. Here mathematically the normal rules of operations like addition of small numbers does not apply and hence one cannot say 1 + 1 + 1 = 3 for God, but must say something akin to infinity + infinity + infinity, which is mathematically undefined. Hence it cannot be ascertained logically or rationally – which is what I was trying to do. What was enlightening was what Isa said to Simon Peter when he said Isa was the Son of God. Isa made clear that this was a revelation from God as he spoke to Peter "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven."

As this went on, I noted something that was not evident to me earlier. Great men of God do not always express it verbally that they are great men of God, their own works testify to it or others who walk along with them testify to their identity. For example, Muslims, Jews and Christians consider Hazraat Ibrahim a great Prophet. However, no place in any expression by Hazraat Ibrahim in the Quran or in the Torah is there a statement that he himself said ‘I am a prophet of God’. What we do find is that Allah states that in the Torah. This provided an interesting problem to deal with. To my amazement, I found something in the Injeel of Matthew that I had not read before. When Yahya (John the Baptist) is sending word through his disciples to find out if Isa is the expected ‘Al Masih’. His reply is ‘let the evidence speak for itself’ as seen below.

Matthew 11:2-6

Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."

Hence here again was a prime opportunity for the original authors or the later day church to make strong claims for Isa’s divine nature in Isa’s own words. But none are found. Why, if corruption was going to be done, why not do it here to make the fundamental claim of Christianity loud and clear with no questions remaining? But instead we find simply ‘let the evidence speak for itself’. Also, only God can accurately predict the future as he is over time. Hence Isa, by identifying himself with a prophecy made by Prophet Isaiah is adding even more credibility than if he simply gave an affirmative answer or expressed it verbally.

At this point I was satisfied of my understanding of the claims of Isa in the Quran and the Injeel.

I had started in my quest to prove Isa merely a human. But in my journey of discovery I arrived at a place of understanding that it was Isa himself, and not Paul or the church leaders, that established the claim that he was God Incarnate. Also, at this point I was now even further set back in my esteem of the Quran as it had the concept of Christian Trinity incorrect. This was yet another blow to my use of the Quran as my standard; the others, as I mentioned earlier, being covered in my discussion on abrogation and discrepancy in the Quran. However, I was not ready to accept the words of the Injeel as true regarding the claim that Isa is God Incarnate. I needed to understand and either confirm or repudiate the reliability and integrity of the Injeel. Even with that, I was still very challenged with this claim of Isa being God Incarnate. I truly found solace though in the fact that this was something that Isa himself saw as a central truth, and that is why he focused attention on it with his closest disciples when he asked them about himself "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" (Matthew 16:15) Was the answer a "Messenger" as the Quran claims or "God Incarnate" to which the Injeel testifies? That is a question I was seeking an answer to, an answer of eternal ramifications and one I was not ready to give up on until I found it.

For those of you who are interested in further study on Isa please refer to the references on it at and other sites and books. If you would like to send me your comments or questions, please use this email address.

Articles by Farooq Ibrahim
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