JESUS IN CHRISTIANITY, JESUS IN ISLAM:
WHICH ACCOUNT IS HISTORICALLY CORRECT?
Muslims and Christians agree that Jesus was born of a
virgin, that he performed mighty miracles, and that he is now alive. We
believe that he was the Messiah, a prophet of God, and his righteous Servant.
But we also disagree on some things. Can a
historical study help us to decide who has the true account of Jesus? I
Christians believe that Jesus was the divine Son of God,
that he is the second person of the Holy Trinity, and that he is our personal
savior who died for the sins of the world. On these points Christianity
diverges from Islam. But on these points Christianity also diverges from
the true historical Jesus, as I will now demonstrate.
The four gospels in the Christian Bible are the primary
materials available for a historical study of Jesus. When we compare the
gospels one to another we can see how the stories about Jesus were changed to
reflect a higher view of Jesus. You can conduct this type of study
yourself if you have a cross-reference Bible. Refer to an episode in one
gospel, then cross-reference it to another gospel where you will find the same
episode. Note the similarities and the dissimilarities.
When we compare Mark to Matthew, we can see how the later
gospel changed individual reports to raise the view of Jesus in the following
1. To have people call Jesus
“Lord.” For example, on the occasion when Jesus was transfigured, in
Mark Peter called him “Rabbi”; in Matthew Peter called him “Lord.” (Mark
9:5 cf. Matthew 17:4)
2. To have Jesus refer to himself
as Lord. When Jesus directed his disciples to wait and watch for his
imminent return, in Mark he called himself “the master of the house”; in
Matthew he called himself “your Lord”. (Mark 13:35 cf. Matthew 24:42)
3. To have Jesus called “the Son
of God”. At a place called Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked Peter who he
thought Jesus was. In Mark Peter replied: “You are the Messiah.”
But in Matthew Peter replied: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the
Living God.” Matthew has added the title “the Son of the Living
God.” (Mark 8:27-29 cf. Matthew 16:13-16)
4. To have Jesus refer to God as
his Father. When Jesus’s mother and siblings came looking for him, in
Mark he said: “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brother and
sister”. But in Matthew he said: “Whoever does the will of my Father
in heaven is my mother and brother and sister.” In Mark he called God
God. But in Matthew he called God his father. (Mark 3:35 cf. Matthew
5. To have people pray to Jesus.
While Jesus was asleep in a boat a storm rocked the boat. In Mark
the disciples awoke Jesus with this mild rebuke: “Teacher, do you not care if
we drown?” But in Matthew they pray to him: “Lord, save us! We are
perishing.” The rebuke was changed to a prayer. (Mark 6:51-52 cf.
Comparing Mark to Matthew in this way, we have seen how
Matthew has reworked the material to bring out later Christian teachings.
The difference is further pronounced as we go from Mark,
the first gospel, to John, the last gospel. The image of Jesus in
John is much larger than in Mark. Here Jesus takes on cosmic dimensions.
In John’s gospel Jesus makes the most significant and far-reaching
claims about himself. There are many statements in this Gospel where Jesus
asserts his own identity. He says:
I am the light of the world.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
I and the Father are one.
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
If Jesus had said these things, the other gospels would
have surely recorded them. But they did not, because he did not say these
things. John recorded them because this was part of the later evolved
story about Jesus.
Later Christians would focus more on the Gospel of John,
and less on the Gospel of Mark. It is often the Gospel of John that is
quoted as proof of Jesus’s divine sonship. Although Mark also calls
Jesus the son of God, the title here can be understood as meaning a righteous
servant. But in John Jesus is the “only-begotten son” (John 3:16).
The manner in which Jesus approaches death has also been
reworked in John. In Mark Jesus begs God to save him from the cross,
though he submits to God’s decision. In John Jesus declares that he will
not pray to be saved (12:27). On the contrary, he asks God to go ahead
according to plan. Jesus in John obviously came to die for the sins of the
world. Hence he declares that no one can take his life away from him since
he has authority to lay down his own life and take it up again (10:18).
Jesus declared in John that no one can take his life from
him. Since he gives it up of his own accord, even the scene of his arrest
has been modified to reflect this. In Mark Judas the betrayer had arranged
to mark Jesus out with a kiss. But in John Judas dares not draw close to
the cosmic Jesus whose very breath blows the crowd away. Unless Jesus
gives himself up he cannot be arrested (John 18:3-12).
We can in this way multiply the examples of how one after
another the gospels went about modifying the image of Jesus for later readers.
The writers did not intend for us to make these comparisons. Each
gospel was initially circulated independently. Eventually, however, they
were collected together and passed down to us in a single book, the Holy Bible.
Today in studying the gospels we can notice the trend to
represent him as Lord and Savior. To find the real historical Jesus we
have to retrace the trend from John back to Mark. But how about beyond
Mark? When we compare Mark with the later gospels we notice the
modifications in the later ones. If we could compare Mark with its
predecessors we would find that Mark has also modified his story. But that
has to remain for another study.
In the meantime, how can we find the real historical
Jesus? I believe we can find him in the Qur’an. Since the Qur’an
is demonstrably the word of God, what it reports about Jesus is true as told by