Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jewish Christology Pt. 1

An examination of early Jewish Christian beliefs in the Deity of Christ

Sam Shamoun


Muslims have started to appeal to liberal, critical scholarship to try to pit the apostle Paul against Jesus’ original Jewish followers. Their purpose is to convince others that the Christology that was believed and affirmed by the first Jewish disciples such as James was closer to the Islamic view of Christ. It is Paul who later came in to perverted the message of Christ and his Jewish followers in order to make him more appealing to the Gentiles. 

These same Muslims will then appeal to passages found in writings that are said to reflect the beliefs and practices of what is called “Jewish Christianity.” These writings include the epistles of James and Jude, the Didache, etc. According to the liberal spin, such documents evince a Christology that is less developed and at odds with the Paul’s view of the risen Lord. The Jesus that supposedly emerges from such writings is a first century Torah-observant Palestinian Jew who worshiped the one God and exhorted others to obey this one God by keeping the commandments of the Torah. Accordingly, the Jesus of “Jewish Christianity” is not a preexistent divine figure who became flesh, but a mere flesh and blood human being whom God anointed by his Spirit and who had a special relationship with God. 

In light of these claims, we have decided to embark on an (albeit brief) examination of the Christology of the letters of James and Jude to see whether these inspired authors believed that Jesus was nothing more than a flesh and blood Torah-observant Jew, and therefore closer to Islam in this respect. Or did these Jewish disciples proclaim that Christ is the preexistent divine, sovereign Lord of all creation who had become man, a view which perfectly comports with Paul’s proclamation of the risen Lord as the divine Son of God who had come to redeem his people from their sins.

Jesus – the Lord of all believers

To begin with, both James and Jude start off their writings by identifying themselves as the slaves of Jesus Christ, and both refer to Christ as their Lord and the Lord of all believers:

“James, a slave of God AND OF the Lord Jesus, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greeting.” James 1:1

“Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ… But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude 1:1, 17

In this regard, they are in agreement with Paul since he also referred to himself as the slave of Jesus and testified that Christ is his Lord and the Lord of all those who truly believe:

“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sos'thenes, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:” 1 Corinthians 1:1-2

“Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” Romans 1:1

Other inspired writers who spoke of Christ as their Lord include the author of Hebrews:

For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

“Now it is evident that our Lord came from Judah, and Moses said nothing about that tribe concerning priests.” Hebrews 7:14

“Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ. Glory belongs to Him forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

And the Apostle Peter, who also spoke of himself as a slave of Christ and even went as far as to refer to Jesus as both God and Savior!

“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3

“Simeon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (tou theou hemon kai soteros ‘Iesou Christou):” 2 Peter 1:1

This is not only similar to the way that James and Jude speak of the risen Lord, but Peter’s reference to Jesus as God may also find a parallel to James since the underlying Greek text of James 1:1 may in fact be identifying Jesus as God as well: 

“… a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (theou kai kyriou 'Iesou Christou doulos)…”

The Greek construction can also be translated as, “a slave of Jesus Christ, who is God and Lord.” This is due to the fact that the Greek word kai in some contexts can mean “even” as opposed to “and,” i.e. “ a slave of God, even the Lord Jesus Christ.” In fact, this is how some of the ancient versions such as the Ethiopic translation understood the conjunction.

Another reason why some would take this as another reference to Christ as God is because the terms for God (theou) and Lord (kyriou) are not only joined by kai, but actually do not have the Greek definite article before either one of them. This has led some scholars to assume that the author intended to bring these two terms into the closest possible relationship, e.g. “a slave of the one who is both God and Lord,” or “a slave to God who is also the Lord.”

Regardless of how one renders the verse, the fact still remains that what James says regarding Jesus plainly shows that he believed in the essential Deity of Christ.

This can be seen from James (Jude as well) depicting himself as the slave of Christ the Lord, which basically places Jesus on par with God the Father since the inspired Scriptures do not allow for a Jew to be a slave to any other heavenly or spiritual being, or to have some other heavenly Lord, besides Yahweh God:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you.” Psalm 73:25

Unto thee who dwellest IN HEAVEN have I lifted up mine eyes. Behold, as the eyes of servants (doulon) [are directed] to the hands of their masters (ton kyrion auton), [and] as the eyes of a maidservant (paidisches) to the hands of her mistress (tes kyrias autes); so our eyes [are directed] to the Lord our God (kyrios ton theon hemon), until he have mercy upon us. Have pity upon us, O Lord (kyrie), have pity upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt. [Yea], our soul has been exceedingly filled [with it]: [let] the reproach [be] to them that are at ease, and contempt to the proud. Psalm 122[Eng. 123]:1-4 LXX

This explains why the faithful are identified as the slaves of Yahweh God:

“So Moses the slave of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD,” Deuteronomy 34:5 – cf. Joshua 1:13, 15; 8:31, 33; 9:24; 11:12; 12:6; 13:8; 14:7; 18:7; 22:2, 5

“After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the slave of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten.” Joshua 24:29 – cf. Judges 2:8

“All Israel has transgressed thy law and turned aside, refusing to obey thy voice. And the curse and oath which are written in the Law of Moses the slave of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.” Daniel 9:11

In fact, one will never find anyone being addressed as the slave of God and someone else, especially of some other spiritual being.

Jesus himself stated that a person could not serve or have two masters or Lords:

No one can serve two lords (dysi kyriois douleuein). Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24 – cf. Luke 16:13

And yet James and Jude refer to themselves as slaves of a person who is no longer on earth, but in heaven, and whom they unhesitatingly address as Lord!

As the following commentaries indicate,

“Note also, how St. James stiles himself the servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some read the words conjoined, others disjoined: conjoined thus, James, a servant of Jesus Christ, who is God and Lord; and thus the fathers urged this text against the Arians, to prove the Divinity and Godhead of Christ; others read the words disjoined, thus James, a servant of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ. This latter reading seems most natural, and less strained, and affords an argument for proving the Divinity of Christ no less weighty than the former; for as the Father is Lord as well as Jesus Christ, so Jesus Christ is God as well as the Father, and God will have all to honour the Son as they honour the Father.” (William Burkitt, Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament; bold emphasis ours)

Of the Lord Jesus Christ (kuriou Iēsou Christou). Here on a par with God (theou) and calls himself not adelphos (brother) of Jesus, but doulos The three terms here as in James 2:1 have their full significance: Jesus is the Messiah and Lord. James is not an Ebionite. He accepts the deity of Jesus his brother, difficult as it was for him to do so. The word kurios is frequent in the lxx for Elohim and Jahweh as the Romans applied it to the emperor in their emperor worship. See 1 Corinthians 12:3 for Kurios Iēsous and Philemon 2:11 for Kurios Iēsous Christos the twelve tribes (tais dōdeka phulais). Dative case. The expression means “Israel in its fulness and completeness” (Hort), regarded as a unity (Acts 26:7) with no conception of any “lost” tribes. (A. T. Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament; *; underline emphasis ours)

James described himself simply as a bond-servant (Gr. doulos) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only he and Jude, another half-brother of the Lord, described themselves simply as bond-servants in their epistles. This probably indicates that they were so well known in the early church that they did not need to describe themselves in more detail.20 James did not refer to himself as Jesus’ brother or the church’s leader. He evidently purposed not to know Jesus "after the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16) but only as his Lord and God. Being a bond-servant of God was his most important relationship (cf. Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1; Rev. 1:1). He placed Jesus equal with God by saying he was the bond-servant of both God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The term bond-servant did not carry the degrading connotation in the first century that it does today. In the Septuagint doulos described Israel’s great leaders who occupied positions of privilege and honor (e.g., Moses [Deut. 34:5; et al.]; David [2 Sam. 7:5; et al]; and the prophets [Jer. 7:25; 44:4; Amos 3:7]). By using this word James was proudly asserting that he belonged to God and to Jesus Christ body and soul.21

“It is only his servanthood to the Lord Jesus Christ that matters to him here, for this is the theme of his letter: How shall we live as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ?”22

20 G. H. Rendall, The Epistle of James and Judaic Christianity, pp. 11-12.

21 Mayor, p. 29.

22 Burdick, p. 167. (Dr. Thomas L. Constable’s Bible Study Notes and Commentary, p. 6; bold emphasis ours)

Such exalted language could only be employed if James and Jude actually believed in the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thought that he was essentially coequal with God the Father. 

What makes this rather amusing is that Muslims will often quote James to prove that submission to God (i.e. Islam) is the true religion:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.” James 4:7-8

But fail to mention that James begins his epistle by describing himself as a slave of both God and the Lord Jesus. Hence, for James submission to God includes submitting to Christ as Lord, which is contrary to Islamic theology:

5. Maintaining the unity of Allaah’s names also means that Allaah’s names in the definite form cannot be given to His creation unless preceded by the prefix meaning ‘Abd "slave of" or "servant of". Many of the Divine names in their indefinite form like and are allowable names for men because Allaah has used some of them in their indefinite forms to refer to the Prophet …

"A messenger has come to you from among yourselves to whom anything which burdens you is grievous. He is full of concern for you and is full of pity (Ra’oof) and full of mercy (Raheem)."

But ar-Ra’oof (the One Most Full of Pity) and ar-Raheem (the Most Merciful) can only be used to refer to men if they are preceded by ‘Abd as in ‘Abdur-Ra’oof or ‘Abdur-Raheem, since the definite form they represent a level of perfection which only belongs to God. Similarly, names like ‘Abdur-Rasool (slave of the messenger), ‘Abdun-Nabee (slave of the Prophet), ‘Abdul-Husayn (slave of Husayn), etc., where people name themselves slaves to other than Allaah are also forbidden. Based on this principle, the Prophet forbade Muslims from referring to those put under their charge as ‘Abdee (my slave) or Amatee (my slave girl). (Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism) [Islamic Book Service, New Delhi, India, Reprint Edition: 2004], 1. Chapter on the Categories of Tawheed, pp. 14-15)

As such, neither James nor Jude can be accused of being Muslims, since their claim of being the slaves of the Lord Jesus directly opposes Islamic theology.

Jesus Christ – the Lord who possesses Glory!

To make matters worse for Muslims, James went on to identify Christ as both Lord and Glory!

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ (tou kyriou hemon ‘Iesou Christou), the Glory (tes doxes).” James 2:1

Here is how some versions render this particular text:

“My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” ESV

“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.” NIV

As these versions indicate, there is some debate concerning how to properly translate the Greek text. Yet, whether the underlying Greek construction should be translated as “glorious Lord,” “Lord of glory,” or “the Glory,” the fact is that such language can only be applied to someone who is truly God in essence, since the Holy Bible teaches that glory is an essential characteristic of Yahweh, whose eternal Being is said to be glorious.

For instance, Yahweh is said to be the glory that resides in Jerusalem:

“For I will be to her a wall of fire round about, says the LORD, and I will be the glory within her.” Zechariah 2:5  

Yahweh is also called the King of glory, i.e. the King who possesses glory:

“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! [Selah]” Psalm 24:7-10

He is further identified as the God of glory:

“The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; The God of glory thunders, The LORD is over many waters.” Psalm 29:3

“And he said, ‘Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,” Acts 7:2

The NT picks up on this theme by calling God the Father of glory:

“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,” Ephesians 1:17

As well as the Majestic Glory:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” 2 Peter 1:16-18

To, therefore, describe Christ as Glory, or even the Lord of Glory, is to ascribe to him an essential attribute which characterizes God’s very own Being.

In fact, some see in this reference an identification of Jesus with God’s visible presence, called Shekinah by the Jews,

The Lord of Glory (tes doxes). Simply "the Glory." No word for "Lord" (kuriou) in the Greek text. Tes doxes clearly in apposition with tou kuriou Iesou Christou. James thus terms "our Lord Jesus Christ" the Shekinah Glory of God. See Hebrews 9:5 for "the cherubim of Glory." Other New Testament passages where Jesus is pictured as the Glory are Romans 9:4; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3. Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-11. (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament; *; underline emphasis ours)

“The phrase our glorious Lord Jesus Christ is, more literally, 'our Lord Jesus Christ of the glory,' perhaps referring to God's Shechinah glory (see Ex. 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11), the history of which James's Jewish readers would have been very familiar. The idea is that we cannot hold the faith of Jesus Christ, who is the very presence and glory of God, and be partial. Jesus Himself was impartial (Matt. 22:16), as indicated by His humble birth, family upbringing in Nazareth, and His willingness to minister in Samaria and Galilee, regions held in contempt by the Jewish leaders.” (John MacArthur, James: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Moody Press, Chicago, IL 1998], p. 97; underline emphasis ours)

Yet, however one understands or chooses to render James’ words, this fact still remains. The only way that James could refer to Christ in such a manner is if he were under the conviction that Jesus is Yahweh God Incarnate. As the following references, taken from two distinguished Christian scholars, show:

“… This word [glory] is in the genitive case in Greek and follows the title ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Commentators attach it to these titles in at least seven different ways, but the most important options are: (1) ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious one’; (2) ‘Our glorious Lord Jesus Christ’ (NRSV; NIV; NLT); or (3) ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory’ (KJV; NASB; TEV). With the first rendering, ‘glory’ is understood as an independent title that further qualifies ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ (an epexegetic genitive). The basis for this interpretation is the common association of ‘glory’ with God in the OT and with both God and Christ in the NT. ‘The Lord of glory’ is a common title in the OT, and is transferred to Jesus in the NT (1 Cor. 2:8). And the word ‘glory’ (translating the Heb. kabod) can signify God’s presence (SEE, E.G. 1 Sam. 4:22). In the NT, Peter uses the word ‘glory’ to refer to God in describing the transfiguration: ‘[Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came from the Majestic Glory, saying…’ (2 Pet. 1:17; see also Heb. 1:3; Rom. 9:4). And the NT authors ascribe the same glory to Christ (e.g., John 1:14). James, then, might be following a common NT pattern, in which attributes and titles given to God in the OT are applied also to Jesus Christ. As the manifestation of God’s presence, he is ‘the glorious one.’  

“However, this interpretation, while theologically unobjectionable, suffers from a key difficulty:  never in the OT or in the NT is the word ‘glory’ used by itself as a title of God or Christ. This makes it unlikely that it has this significance here. On the other hand, the grammatical basis for the second alternative – ‘glorious Lord’ – is very solid, the descriptive genitive being a favorite construction in James. On this view, James is attributing to the Lord Jesus the quality of splendor that is peculiar to God himself. The third translation is the most ambiguous of the three, leaving it unclear just how the word ‘glory’ relates to Lord. And for this reason, it is probably the best alternative. ‘Glory’ has enough theological significance in its own right in the NT that turning it into a simple adjective – ‘glorious’ – might weaken the sense James intends here. ‘Glory’ is that state of ‘being-like-God’ to which Christians are destined (e.g., Rom. 5:2; 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17) and in which Jesus even now exists (Phil. 3:21; Col. 3:4; 2 Thess. 2:14; 1 Tim. 3:16; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 2:7, 9). Describing Jesus as the Lord of glory suggests particularly the heavenly sphere to which he has been exalted and from which he will come at the end of history to save and judge (cf. Jas. 5:9). This reminder is particularly appropriate in a situation where Christians are giving too much ‘glory’ to human beings.” (Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James: The Pillar New Testament Commentary [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI 2000], pp. 100-101; bold emphasis ours)


“James speaks of our Lord by name only twice, and on both occasions he gives Him the full title of reverence: ‘the (our) Lord Jesus Christ’ (1.1, 2.1) – coupling Him in the one case on equal terms with God, and in the other adding further epithets of divine dignity. Elsewhere he speaks of Him simply as ‘the Lord’ (5.7,8, [14] 15) in context which greatly enhance the significance of the term. The pregnant use of ‘the Name,’ absolutely, which we found current among the early Christians as reported in the Acts, recurs here; and James advises in the case of the sick people that they be prayed over, while they are anointed with oil ‘in the Name’ (5.14). The “Name” intended is clearly that of Jesus, which is thus in Christian usage substituted for that of Jehovah. A unique epithet, equally implying the deity of the Lord, is applied to Him in the exhortation, ‘My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory, with respect to persons’ (2.1). ‘Glory’ seems to stand here in apposition to the name, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ,’ further defining Him in His majesty. There is here something more than merely association of our Lord with glory, as when we are told that that He had glory with God before the world was (Jno 17.5), and after His humiliation on earth (though even on earth He manifested His glory to seeing eyes, Jno 1.14, 2.11, 17.22) entered again into His glory (Lk 24.26, Jno 17.24, 1 Tim 3.16, Heb 2.9, cf. Mt 19.28, 25.31, []Mk 10.37), and is to come again in this glory (Mt 16.27, 24.30, 25.31, Mk 8.38, 13.26, Lk 9.26, 21.27, Titus 2.13, 1 P 4.13). We come nearer to what is implied when we read of Jesus being ‘the Lord of glory’ (1 Cor 2.8), that is He to whom glory belongs as His characterizing quality; or when He is described to us as ‘the effulgence of the glory of God’ (Heb 1.3). The thought of the writer seems to be fixed on those Old Testament in which Jehovah is described as ‘Glory’: e. g., ‘For I, saith Jehovah, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and I will be the Glory in the midst of her’ (Zech 2.5). In the Lord Jesus Christ, James sees the fulfillment of these promises: He is Jehovah come to be with His people; and, as He has tabernacled among them, they have seen His glory. He is, in a word, the glory of God, the Shekinah: God manifest to men. It is thus that James thought and spoke of his own brother who died a violent and shameful death while still in His first youth! Surely there is a phenomenon here which may well waken inquiry.” (Benjamin B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory: A Classic Defense of the Deity of Jesus Christ [Solid Ground Christians Books, Birmingham, Alabama: First Printing, November 2003], The Witness of the Catholic Epistles, pp. 264-265)

Finally, James wasn’t alone in referring to his half-brother and risen Lord in this manner, since his description of Christ is perfectly in line with how some of the other inspired NT authors depict the exalted Christ.

For instance, Paul calls Jesus the Lord of glory: 

“None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:8

The author of Hebrews says that Christ is the radiance or outshining of God’s glory, and the exact imprint or copy of God’s uncreated substance:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV

The Apostle John writes that Jesus shared the same divine glory with the Father even before the world was created:

“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made.” John 17:5

As such, James was in perfect agreement with Paul and the rest of the writers that supposedly represent what liberals and Muslims call “Pauline Christianity.”  

In other words, James wouldn’t have been a Muslim, but would have instead condemned Muhammad as a false prophet for denying the truth about his half-brother and exalted Master.

With that said we arrive at the conclusion of this first section. It is therefore time to proceed to the second part of our analysis.