Christian and Islamic Jesus: Not the Same

Conceptually speaking, it is as if there is a “Christian Jesus” and an “Islamic Jesus”.

2-jesus-christ-laur-iduc

Christianity and Islam teach us there is only one God. At a recent community meeting to improve communication between Christians and Muslims, it was stated by a member of the audience that since both religions believe in Jesus, we all share the same God. This statement generated much emotion and controversy. As the evening progressed, it became clear that the meeting attendees knew very little about any religion other than their own. It also became clear to the Christian and Islamic religious leaders in attendance that a few Christians and Muslims were unfamiliar with some aspects of their own faith. Complicating discussions, it appeared many attendees were mistakenly projecting what they knew about their own religion onto the other faith, without realizing that surface similarities sometimes mask fundamental differences.

Even among people of good will, assumptions made about another’s faith can injure. If not recognized as assumptions, they may be given the full weight of truth and can contribute to misunderstandings. Inaccurate assumptions often remain in the shadows where they remain unchallenged, and where they obscure the path to mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently stated, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” Shallow understanding of faith is the equivalent of no understanding at all.

True, there are many similarities between Christianity and Islam, which may vary within sects of each religion. For example, both Christians and Muslims believe in one all-knowing God. We probably would agree that God cannot be fully comprehended. We agree God created mankind, but that mankind turned away from God. We both claim a special relationship with Abraham. We are taught that God sends mankind messengers — human and angelic. We probably would agree that Jesus once walked among us in the Middle East, including in the regions currently referred to as Egypt (Matthew 2:14-15), Israel, Jordan, Palestine, the West Bank, and Syria (Mark 7:31). We might agree that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and perhaps other languages as well.

Christians and Muslims both believe Jesus performed miracles, we both revere Jesus and Jesus’ disciples, and we believe that Jesus will return. However, there is the potential for misunderstanding if we equate these similarities with sameness; similar semantics and imagery between our respective beliefs often obscures dissimilar theology, which obscurity can create misunderstandings and undermine harmonious coexistence. Misunderstanding is the seed of distrust. Under the right conditions, misunderstanding sows a bitter harvest.

The Christian image of God (“Yahweh” or “Jehovah”) impacts Christians in a way that Muslims do not experience, and the Islamic image of God (“Allah”) impacts Muslims in a way that Christians do not experience. As in all religions, we reflect the nature of God as our beliefs define Him. Whether we use as our role model the Lord Jesus or the Prophet Muhammad, our respective religious beliefs regarding the nature of God mold our relationships, define our values, predict our behavior, and shape our world outlook. Author Nabeel Qureshi beautifully observed, who we are in faith changes how we see ourselves, other people, and the world around us. (No God But One, p. 26, Nabeel Qureshi, 2016)

A cornerstone difference between Christianity and Islam relates to the identity of Jesus. Although both Christianity and Islam teach that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, the relationship of Jesus to Christianity’s understanding of the nature of God is fundamentally different than it is to Muslim understanding. Conceptually speaking, it is as if there is a “Christian Jesus” and an “Islamic Jesus”: Compatible as proponents of peace, yet incompatible with each other’s religion in the context of their respective theologies.

Simply stated, in Christianity, Jesus is God in the flesh — sinless. To Christians, Jesus is the very nature of God. Jesus is Lord. Because Jesus is divine, Jesus is “the Word of God” — the “Living Word.” In contrast, Islam teaches that Jesus is not God. Jesus is a Messenger of God — a prophet. Jesus is revered in Islam, but subordinate in importance to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, who lived several hundred years after Jesus. According to Islam, it is to the Prophet Muhammad that the Angel Gabriel revealed the final revelations of God, which are written in Islam’s Holy Book, the Quran. In Islam, the Quran is “the Word of God,” not Jesus. It is the Prophet Muhammad who is the greatest prophet and the most perfect human being in Islam. It is the Prophet Muhammad who serves as a role model for Muslims illustrating human behavior pleasing to God. Although Christians believe Jesus to be the only Son of God as encompassed by the doctrine of the Holy Trinity (“God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”), Islam rejects the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity. (Verse 5:73 of the Quran, Sahih International)

The doctrine of the Christian Holy Trinity underlies many of the false assumptions Christians make about Muslims and many of the false assumptions Muslims make about Christians.  The doctrine of the Holy Trinity illustrates the relational nature of three “personas” within a singular, almighty God. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is something that all orthodox Christians believe, including Greek Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, Evangelical Protestant Christians, and others. It’s admittedly a complex concept to comprehend because it labors to explain God’s divine nature, which is not of this world and not limited by physical dimensions; it’s even harder to explain using words that are limited by worldly experience. In simple terms, it refers to the existence of One Almighty God with three separate personas – all perfect, and all and together the essence of God. Perhaps by human analogy, it resembles how we might describe ourselves as a parent, a child, and a friend — a single person, but one with three personas. As one Christian described in 2002, “(The Holy Trinity) is at the heart of the distinctive message we proclaim and what sets (Christians) apart most dramatically from Islam.” (George, Timothy. “Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus?”, Christianity Today, February 4, 2002) Another important, related example of the differences between Christianity and Islam is that Islam refutes Christianity’s fundamental beliefs that Jesus was crucified, died for our sins, and was resurrected from death before Jesus ascended into heaven.

The belief that Jesus is God is the heartbeat of Christianity. At its core is the belief that God loves us so much that He gave His Only Son so that we might have eternal life with Him, by virtue of His grace and mercy. Christianity is based on Holy Scripture, which includes thousands of years of fulfilled prophecies and divine promises — and the Gospels. The belief that Jesus was crucified, died for our sins, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is our Lord, is an indispensable part of Christian theology. It is these beliefs that form the framework for Christian understanding whenever Christians discuss Jesus — or hear His name. This belief system contributes to misunderstandings between Christians and Muslims, because Christians may not realize that Christian beliefs about Jesus are different than Islamic beliefs about Jesus. Similarly, Muslims may not realize that Christian beliefs about Jesus do not mirror Islamic concepts of Jesus.

Over time, I have come to realize that the kind and loving Muslims who I have been privileged to know revere Jesus in a different way than I do as a Christian. My Muslim friends revere and follow Jesus’ teachings only in the context of their Islamic faith and understanding of Him, not in the context of my Christian faith and understanding of Jesus. Although we each believe in one God, the nature of God as we perceive God is very different. And for me, that is all right. It’s not for me to judge the relationship of others to God. It is for me to be faithful to my own.

The question I ask myself as a Christian is not whether Christians and Muslims share the same God, but whether we can coexist in peace despite the religious differences between us? The answer is yes — with God’s grace. Jesus teaches us that with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26) Whether we are Christians who worship Jesus as our Lord or we are Muslims who revere Jesus as a Messenger of God, consider that Jesus says, “… ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets stem from these two laws and are fulfilled if you obey them. Keep only these and you will find that you are obeying all others.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Jesus does not limit our command to love one another to those of us who are the same — or with whom there is no conflict or disagreement. To the contrary, Jesus says: “There is a saying, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you. In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

 

Photo: Painting of Jesus Christ by Laur Iduc. May be subject to copyright.

10 thoughts on “Christian and Islamic Jesus: Not the Same

  1. Is it love to neglect the truth? As a Christian I can love and pray for Muslims, but I can rightly judge that according to my faith there is no salvation outside of Christ. I would contest that it is not love to shrug our shoulders and let people carry on in error.

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    1. Sullivanspin, thank you for commenting. It means a lot to me that you cared enough to respond to my post. I believe it an act of love when people, such as yourself, gently challenge something I have written about my faith because it allows me to reflect on what I believe and whether I articulated it fairly, and to consider other perspectives such as your own. To the extent you assert that “I can rightly judge according to my faith there is no salvation outside of Christ,” I agree that is your right. Personally, I have reached that same conclusion – although I strive to be respectful of those who’ve reached a different conclusion. I partially agree with your statement, “I would contest that it is not love to shrug our shoulders and let people carry on in error.” To the extent you imply that indifference is not love, I agree with you wholeheartedly. If I gave you the impression that I am indifferent to what people believe, then I apologize. That was not my intent, nor does it reflect my feelings. Thank you for allowing me to correct that misconception. However, I believe in religious freedom and that that people’s religious choices should be voluntary, so your term “let people carry on” puzzled me in the sense it might imply anyone has the right to stop someone from practicing their faith. Perhaps I misread it — perhaps it is simply semantics that confused me and how we use a phrase. Finally, as a Christian, I believe that the Holy Spirit works through us to reach out to those around us in ways we cannot always recognize. In this regard, I believe we should be ready to answer questions about our faith and share Jesus’ teachings with those who want to learn, but that we should be tactful and gentle in our approach. Perhaps we agree on this also. In this regard, I have been influenced greatly by Scripture, including: “Quietly trust yourself to Christ your Lord, and if anybody asks you why you believe as you do, be ready to tell him, and do it in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:15); and, “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish arguments, which only upset people and make them angry. God’s people must not be quarrelsome; they must be gentle, patient teachers of those who are wrong. Be humble when you are trying to teach those who are mixed up concerning the truth. For if you talk meekly and courteously to them, they are more likely, with God’s help, to turn away from their wrong ideas and believe what is true.” (2 Timothy 23-25) I hope we have a chance to share ideas again in the future.

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      1. I really love your response to this. At first I thought you were indifferent but reading this, I now truly understand what you meant. I loved reading this post btw, it’s good you out it up. It’s one of the topics I love concerning Apologetics and I’m currently working my way to study deeply on Apologetics.

        Thanks again!🙆🏽‍♀️

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for the reply Jazzdat. From what you’ve said it seems as if we agree on many things. There is no vacancy in the Trinity and I cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit, which convicts people of sin. As long as we lovingly engage Muslims with the truth of Christ crucified for sinners and salvation to all who believe, that is our task. Proclaim Christ. We can’t control the response, but we must declare truth. Sounds like our Christian faith has much in common.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. We can’t force anyone to believe in Christ. That is not up to us. We can only love in the way that Christ commands us to. Being a Sri Lankan, a Christian, living in the middle east, in an Islamic nation, in the light of recent events, etc., I’ve come to regard Muslims are those who are spiritually blind. The one thing that I admire about them, is the way that they adhere to their faith and its teachings, regardless.
      I’ve seen Christians make remarks and question the practices of tithes and offerings, yet Muslims without question won’t take a seconds notice about washing their feet before entering a mosque to pray or sacrificing a goat, etc. Even to the point that they prepare for it.
      If Christians showed as much diligence in the simple commandment of Love, the whole world would probably be Christian by now.

      There is no salvation besides Christ. Christ himself said so. To argue would be to refute the words of Christ. No one else in the history of the world has ever made such claims. It was one of the reasons, the religious leaders call him a heretic. Yet, time and time again, Christ has proven himself worthy of that claim and statement.
      What do we know about Muhammad? In the light of recent evidences, I would say nothing…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Julxrp, thank you very much for responding to my post. It means very much to me that you took the time to read my post and reflect upon it. Like you, I admire how my Muslim friends are devoted to their faith. With respect to the link you provided, I would suspect that the speaker and information presented would generate much controversy. The Bible and the life of Jesus have been studied extensively for historical accuracy and collaboration by both Christians and Muslims, but until relatively recently the Holy Quran and Prophet Muhammad have not been studied for historical accuracy to the same extent and degree, in part because of the Islamic belief they are unassailable. Even though much of the latest historical research presented in your link appears to be provided by Muslim historians and scholars, I suspect it is not widely known or accepted. Also, I suspect that some of the statements made by the speaker and the occasional laughter by some members of his audience could be perceived as disrespectful of Islam. I doubt this information would be likely to persuade most Muslims to question their faith, in part because of their devotion to Islam that you mention. The words of author and theologist Nabeel Quereshi came to mind in this regard: “After spending three years investigating the case for Christianity as a Muslim, I tentatively concluded that Christians had good historical reason to believe their faith. This was a paradigm shift in my mind, utterly incompatible with what I had been taught as a Muslim, but it was unavoidably true. And because the evidence also challenged my Islamic beliefs, I had to either ignore it all (which my mind could not do), become a Christian (which I could not even imagine), or believe that, despite how strong the evidence for Christianity was, the evidence for Islam must be stronger. The last option was the only viable option for me, so I found myself assuming that the case for Islam must be stronger than the case for Christianity… But if there was one thing Islam had taught me, it was that I must submit to God and not to man. That meant following the truth, no matter where it led.” (“No God But One God, Nabeel Qureshi, 2016, pp. 239-290). I hope we have an opportunity to share perspectives in the future.

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      2. We can’t force anyone to believe in Christ, but we must present the truth of Jesus to unbelievers.

        Diligence in love is ultimately a work (salvation is worked by the Holy Spirit) and without the message of Christ proclaimed the world can’t believe what they haven’t heard.

        I’m not sure I follow your last point, many have claimed to be god or his spokesperson.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sullivanspin, I can feel the passion of your faith in your written word, including your statement, “without the message of Christ proclaimed the world can’t believe what they haven’t heard.” It resonates with truth. I personally believe we’re meant to share our faith not only with non-believers, but with believers as well. In the latter case, it provides opportunities for growth, gentle correction, and spiritual reinforcement. Thank you for that. As for the last point that you didn’t understand, I probably wandered off topic. I’ll tackle that another day. Thank you for your patience.

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