Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Is Jesus God’s Servant or Son?

More Evidence of Biblical Corruption? Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

Certain Muslim polemicists have capitalized on the differences between the various English translations of the Holy Bible in order to cast doubt on the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. An example of such a difference can be found in the way that certain English versions render the following passages:

“The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go…  Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Acts 3:13, 26 Authorized King James Version (AV)

“For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together… By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.” Acts 4:27, 30 AV

In these particular verses the AV has the Apostles referring to Jesus as the Son and holy Child of God. However, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) renders these texts differently:

“The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him… God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

“for truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel… while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus.”

Thus, instead of Jesus being called God’s Son and holy Child, the RSV has the Apostles identifying him as God’s Servant.

This has led some Islamic apologists to contend that the earliest Christian confession wasn’t that Jesus was(is) God’s Son, but rather God’s servant. It was only at a latter period that the proclamation was changed from Jesus being the Servant of God to his Son.

As an example of this, note the argument made by Muslim polemicist Misha'al Abdullah Al-Kadhi:

The Actual [sic] Greek word used is "pias" [sic] or "paida" which mean [sic]; "servant, child, son, manservant." Some translations of the Bible, such as the popular King James Version, have translated this word as "Son" when it is attributed to Jesus and "servant" for most everyone else, while more recent translations of the Bible such as the Revised Standard Version (RSV) now honestly translate it as "servant." As we shall see in later chapters, the RSV was compiled by thirty two Biblical scholars of the highest eminence, backed by 50 cooperating Christian denominations from the "most" ancient Biblical manuscripts available to them today. Chances are that no matter what your church or denomination you are able to name, that church took part in the correction of the King James Version of the Bible which resulted in the RSV. (Al-Kadhi, What did Jesus really say?, Jesus is God's servant)

Dr. Laurence Brown, an atheist convert to Islam, says something similar:

Regarding the religious use of the word ebed, “The term serves as an expression of humility used by the righteous before God.”[2] Furthermore, “After 100 B.C. pais theou more often means “servant of God,” as when applied to Moses, the prophets, or the three children (Bar. 1:20; 2:20; Dan. 9:35).”[3] A person can easily get into doctrinal quicksand: “Of eight instances of this phrase, one refers to Israel (Lk. 1:54), two refer to David (Lk 1:69; Acts 4:25), and the other five to Jesus (Mt. 12:18; Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30)…. In the few instances in which Jesus is called pais theou we obviously have early tradition.”[4] So Jesus did not have exclusive rights to this term, and where it was employed the term “obviously” stemmed from “early tradition.” Furthermore, the translation, if impartial, should identify all individuals to whom the phrase was applied in similar manner. Such, however, has not been the case. Whereas pais has been translated “servant” in reference to David (Acts 4:25 and Luke 1:69) and Israel (Luke 1:54), it is translated “Son” or “holy child” in reference to Jesus (Acts 3:13; 3:26; 4:27; 4:30). Such preferential treatment is canonically consistent, but logically flawed. Lastly an interesting, if not key, religious parallel is uncovered: “Thus the Greek phrase pais tou theou, ‘servant of God,’ has exactly the same connotation as the Muslim name Abdallah—the ‘servant of Allah.’”[5]

The symmetry is all the more shocking, for the Holy Qur’an relates Jesus as having identified himself as just this—Abdallah (abd being Arabic for slave or servant, Abd-Allah [also spelled “Abdullah”] meaning slave or servant of Allah).  According to the story, when Mary returned to her family with the newborn Jesus, they accused her of being unchaste.  Speaking from the cradle in a miracle that gave credence to his claims, baby Jesus defended his mother’s virtue with the words, “Inni Abdullah …” which means, “I am indeed a servant of Allah …” (TMQ 19:30) (Brown, Jesus Christ – Son of God? (part 1 of 2): The Meaning of “Son of God”)

As does Shabir Ally who writes:

Some people mistakenly thought that the disciples called Jesus Son of God. An inconsistency of translation actually helped to give this wrong impression. In the King James Bible, the translators call Jesus “Son of God” in Acts 3:13, 26, and “child of God” in Acts 4:27. They simply translated the Greek word paida as “son” or “child”. But the word paida also means “servant”, and the present context demands this translation since the author of Acts is trying in this passage to establish that Jesus is indeed the servant of God.

The translators knew that the Greek word paida means servant. When the same word was used for David in chapter 4, verse 25, they translated it “servant”. Why not call Jesus also by the same title? Or, if they feel that “son” is the correct translation, why not also call David “Son of God”? Jesus and David are both called by the same title in Greek. Why not call them by a same title in English also?

Other translators recognised this inconsistency and corrected it in the modern translations of the Bible. Therefore the New International Version of the Bible and many others call Jesus Servant of God in the verses already quoted above. Nevertheless, the fact that Jesus was God’s servant was so well known that even the King James Bible called him by this title in Matthew 12:18. Referring back to Isaiah 42:1, Matthew identified Jesus as the servant of the one true God Yahweh. (Ally, Jesus is a Servant of God; See also the following link)

We have decided to respond to these charges in order show that the foregoing Muslim writers are grasping at straws. Not only will we demonstrate that the earliest Christian kerygma or proclamation was that Jesus is the unique, divine Son of God, we will further show how even the claim of Jesus being God’s Servant ends up backfiring against these apologists by proving that Muhammad was a false prophet.


First Assumption – Pais must always mean servant.

The very first problem which these gentlemen are face with is that the Greek word which the RSV renders as “servant,” paida, doesn’t always refer to a servant. There are places where this word is used in relation to a child, such as we find in the following examples:

“After the two days he left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there. Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son (ho huios) lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son (autou ton huion), who was close to death. ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ‘you will never believe.’ The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child (to paidion mou) dies.’ ‘Go,’ Jesus replied, ‘your son (ho huios sou) will live.’ The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy (ho pais autou) was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.’ Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son (Ho huios sou) will live.’ So he and his whole household believed. This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.” John 4:43-54

The royal official refers to his son (huios; used both in the narrative and by Jesus himself) as his pais/paidion, which obviously cannot mean his servant. And:

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child (tou paidiou toutou). And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’ Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus (to paidion 'Iesoun), to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’… And the child (to de paidion) grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” Luke 2:6-32, 40

In light of the context, which speaks of Jesus’ birth and consecration to God at the temple, can anyone deny that paidion can only mean child or son?


Second Assumption – Son of God means nothing more than a servant of God.

The second problem with the arguments of these Muslim polemicists is that the terms son and servant are not synonymous, since the Scriptures are clear that a son or daughter has a higher status than a servant does. Note the following words of Christ carefully:

“When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the tax?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others? And when he said, ‘From others,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.’” Matthew 17:24-27

Sons are exempt from paying taxes, whereas servants are not. And:

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” John 8:34-36 

A slave has no permanent place in the household whereas a son abides in it forever, which is why people need God’s Son to set them free from their bondage. Finally:

“And he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes”?’” Mark 12:1-11

In the parable, the servants are supposed to be the prophets of God,

“From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.” Jeremiah 7:25-26 – cf. 26:5; 29:19; 44:4

Whereas the beloved Son and Heir is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

This in itself conclusively proves that Jesus didn’t view himself as a mere servant like the rest of the prophets, but thought of himself as being much higher and greater than them.

This now brings me to my next point which I will pick up in the next part of my rebuttal.