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Divinity and Trinity – A Scriptural Comparison

35The Review of Religions – December 2006 UMAR IBN AL-KHATTAB(RA) – CONQUESTS FOR SURVIVAL advice on many issues. 6. 2.5% tax paid on wealth saved and unused over a year – to be earmarked for the use of those who are less well-off in the community, the poor, widows, orphans, homeless, etc. 7. Protection tax paid by non- Muslims living in a Muslim State to the government 8. Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. 1, p.64. 9. Muir, W., The Caliphate. 10. Ibid. 11. Muir, W., The Biography of Mahomet and Rise of Islam, p.297. 12. Ali, Maulana Muhammad, The Early Caliphate, p.66. 13. Imam al-Waqidi., The Islamic Conquest of Syria, (translated by Mawlana Sulayman al-Kindi) Ta-Ha Publishers. (See various Chapters for record of letters, treaties and sermons of ‘Umar sent to the various heads of states and to his own generals.) 14. Ibid., 15. This speech was given in the year 634 corresponding to 13A.H. Imam al-Waqidi., The Islamic Conquest of Syria, p.158. (translated by Mawlana Sulayman al- Kindi) Ta-Ha Publishers. 16. Ibid., p.178. 17. Ibid,. p.177 18. Ibid., p.184 19. Ibid., p.185 20. Hourani, Albert, A History of the Arab Peoples, p. 24, (1991). 21. The Holy Qur’an, Ch.9:V.51. 22. Imam al-Waqidi., The Islamic Conquest of Syria, p.398-9. (translated by Mawlana Sulayman al- Kindi) Ta-Ha Publishers. 23. The text of this treaty can be found in Tabari but the reference is unavailable. For a translation one should refer to; Ali, Maulana Muhammad, The Early Caliphate, p.89 24. Known commonly as the Church of the Resurrection 36 The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY: A scriptural comparison The classic Christian-Islamic debate on the status of Jesus(as) touches many aspects of his life. Orthodox Christianity claims that the miracles of Jesus(as) and the terminology used in the Bible regarding Jesus(as) denote a unique status of him being the literal son of God. Interestingly enough similar episodes and aspects of Jesus’ life are also found in the Holy Qur’an, yet it presents such events in a completely different light and considers them as evidence of Jesus(as) being a true prophet of God. It further notes that similar such miracles and events are also linked with the lives of other prophets before Jesus(as), who were not deemed to be part of the Divine, so presenting consistency in the relationship between terminology and divine favour with the status of prophethood. This article reflects on the Biblical and Qur’anic accounts concerning the two issues commonly presented by Christianity in support of Jesus’ Divinity – namely the Virgin Birth and reference to Jesus(as) as the ‘Word of God’. It also considers the role and nature of the third element of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as noted in the two scriptures. Against this backdrop it then presents viewpoints of some modern Christian scholars reflecting a broader scepticism regarding the concepts of Divinity and Trinity. The Virgin Birth The incident of the Virgin Birth is common to both Islam and Christianity, yet the inter- pretation of who Jesus(as) was based upon this event is radically different in the two faiths. For By Arif Khan – London, UK 37The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON Christians the Virgin Birth is part of the proof of Christ’s divinity whereas for Muslims it was a special manifestation of God’s power, but one which in no way elevates Jesus(as) to the position to divinity. What is interesting is that both scriptures link the birth of Jesus(as) with the birth of John the Baptist(as). Whilst the two events are certainly linked chrono- logically the similarity between the two events does not end there. The Bible notes the fact that the birth of John the Baptist(as) was as a result of the prayers of Zachariah(as), but it stays silent on the precursor to the birth of Jesus(as), when in fact that is a key element of the virgin birth. Let us first look at the biblical account of the birth of John the Baptist(as) . The Bible notes that Zachariah(as) was a priest and more importantly that he and his wife were ‘both righteous before God, walking in all the command-ments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.’ (Luke 1:6). Of all the Gospels the Gospel of Luke is the only one to detail the story of Zachariah(as) and his barren wife. It states: ‘But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.’ (Luke 1:13-15) This makes it clear that the miraculous conception and birth of John the Baptist(as) was an act of God resulting from the acceptance of the prayers of a righteous servant of God. The amazement of Zachariah(as) at the prospect of a son being born to him and his barren wife (Luke 1:7), both of whom were advanced in years, is evident from his expression on hearing 38 The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON this news, for he said: ‘Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years.’ (Luke 1:18) If we now look at the account in the Holy Qur’an we see that it reflects the Biblical account and emphasises the piety of Zachariah(as). It also relates the actual prayers of Zachariah(as), something that is missing in the Biblical narrative. The detailed account of Zachariah(as) in Holy Qur’an is in chapter 19 (Sura Maryam). The Chapter initially begins with the account of how Zachariah(as) and his barren wife were blessed with John the Baptist(as), referred to in the Holy Qur’an as ‘Yahya’ and of the deep prayers of Zachariah(as) and how these were answered. He [Zachariah] said, ‘My Lord, the bones have indeed waxed feeble in me, and the head glistens with hoariness but never, my Lord have I been unblessed in my prayer to Thee. And I fear my relations after me, and my wife is barren. Grant me therefore, a successor from Thyself, that he may be heir to me and to the House of Jacob. And make him my Lord, well- pleasing to Thee. ‘O Zachariah, We give thee glad tidings of a son whose name shall be Yahya. We have not made any one before him of that name’. He said ‘My Lord, how shall I have a son when my wife is barren and I have reached the extreme limit of old age?’ He said, ‘So it is.’ But thy Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and indeed I created thee before, when thou wast nothing.’ (Ch.19:Vs.5-10) The accounts are similar in the Bible and the Holy Qur’an but more importantly they relate a clear theme of a miraculous birth resulting from the sincere prayers of the progenitor of Zachariah(as). This provides a useful bench- mark to analyse the next account 39The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON that relates to the virgin birth of Jesus(as). It is interesting to note that whilst the Bible is silent on the background to the birth of Jesus(as), the Qur’an presents this important piece of the historical jigsaw, to enable a logical conclusion to be drawn from the chain of events that precede and therefore link the two births. If we look at the Bible first then we note that the conception of Jesus(as) is described in little detail. Matthew simply describes what was in Mary’s womb as being ‘of the Holy Ghost’ (Matthew 1:20), Mark is silent on the matter and John describes it as the Word ‘made flesh’. John’s account is dealt with in a later section. Again it is only Luke that deals with this in any detail and narrates this immediately after the conception of John the Baptist(as). ‘And the angel [Gabriel] said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.’ (Luke 1:30-31) Again an expression of surprise is evident for Mary responded by saying, ‘How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?’ (Luke 1:34) In response to this the example of John the Baptist(as) is given, with the angel noting that, ‘And behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age…who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.’ (Luke 1:36-37) This reinforces the idea that, whilst the birth of Jesus(as) was unusual, there was a strong link between the phenomenon of the conception of Jesus(as) and that of John the Baptist(as). When we turn to the Qur’anic narrative again it provides a missing link to the episode – that being the deep prayers that preceded the conception. In this 40 The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON instance we are told that whilst in the case of John the Baptist(as) it was Zachariah’s prayer that was answered, in the case of Jesus(as) the prayer that was answered was actually that offered by Mary’s mother, Hanna. It again begins by noting that the family of Imran was righteous for it states that: Allah did choose Adam and Noah and the family of Abraham and the family of Imran above all peoples. (Ch.3:V.34) It further witnesses the piety of Mary whom it describes as ‘above the women of all peoples’ (Ch3: V.43) This indicates that it was the piety of both the family of Imran and of Mary in particular that was to play a key role in the conception of Jesus(as). The Qur’an relates Hanna’s prayer for a righteous offspring as she prayed for a child whom she could dedicate to the service of the Temple. The Qur’anic account also clarifies that Hanna fully expected a son as it was only men who were normally dedicated to the service of the Temple. The Qur’an states, Remember when the woman of Imran said, ‘My Lord, I have vowed to Thee what is in my womb to be dedicated to Thy service. So do accept it of me; verily Thou along art All- Hearing, All-Knowing.’ But when she was delivered of it, she said, ‘My Lord, I am delivered of a female – and Allah knows best what she delivered forth and the male she was thinking of was not like the female she had brought forth – ‘and I have named her Mary, and I commit her and her off-spring to Thy protection from Satan the rejected’. (Ch.3:Vs.36-37) Hanna was surprised and confused as to how she could dedicate the child now as she had given birth to Mary. Nevertheless she dedicated Mary to the Temple. With hindsight this proved a wise move as it protected her from any false 41The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON charge of being unchaste. This also is evidence of Hanna’s complete trust in God to answer her prayers for a righteous offspring. Her prayers were to be answered in full in the birth of her grandchild for the miraculous aspect of his birth was that it would occur without the agency of a father. So whilst Hanna and Mary were exceptional in their piety, it is likely that Mary was also exceptional in her biological make up that allowed her mother’s prayer to be fulfilled and result in the birth of a great Prophet of God. The conception of Jesus(as) is then narrated in the following detail, When the angles said, ‘O Mary, Allah gives thee glad tidings of a word from him; his name shall be Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, honoured in this world and in the next, and of those who are granted nearness to God. (Ch.3:V.46) She said, ‘My Lord, how shall I have a son, when no man has touched me?’ He said, ‘Such is the way of Allah. He creates what He pleases. When He decrees a thing, He says to it, “Be” and it is.’ (Ch.3:V.48) Again we hear of the birth of Jesus(as) being bestowed upon Mary due to her having ‘found favour with God’. In the Gospel of Luke the angel is reported to have related this miracle of the birth of Jesus(as) with the birth of John the Baptist(as), just as in the Qur’anic account. All the above suggests that rather than linking a special event with the Divinity of a person the true message is found in the piety of the people involved in the events and their deep prayers that were subsequently answered by God. Indeed, whilst the subject matter of the Virgin birth is no doubt a complex event, the Qur’an makes clear that the roots of the Virgin birth go back to Mary’s mother dedicating her offspring to God. The Virgin birth of Jesus(as) was therefore as a result of prayers to Allah being fulfilled 42 The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON as much as the birth of John the Baptist(as) was the result of the prayers of Zachariah(as). This detailed explanation rules out any questions about it having anything to do with the possible divinity of Jesus(as). Jesus(as) as ‘The Word’ The second issue relates to the famous enigmatic opening of the Gospel of John that refers to Jesus(as) as ‘the word’. This comes from the Greek idea of the ‘logos’. Whilst a detailed explanation of this term is not appropriate here, it is interesting to note how again Islam and Christianity again use very similar nomenclature for Jesus(as), yet with very different consequences and implications. The Gospel of John opens with: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1) In the Gospel of John, which is acknowledged as being different from the synoptic Gospels, we read right at the start how Jesus(as) was part of God. He is referred to as being part of ‘the Word’ and later in the opening verses we have: ‘and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14) The idea of Jesus(as) as the ‘Word’ is an intrinsic part of the doctrine of the proposed trinity and the divinity of Christ. It is sometimes argued that the Qur’an has used similar terminology and that it concurs with the view that the Word of God i.e. Jesus(as) was in part divine. Whilst the Holy Qur’an also refers to Jesus(as) as ‘a Word’, as we have seen in Chapter 3 Verse 46, it does so in the manner of describing Jesus(as) as being conceived as a result of a ‘Word’ or a ‘command’ from Allah, rather than as him being a part of Allah Himself. The Arabic term used in verse 46 is ‘Kalimah’ which amongst other, means a 43The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON word; a decree; a command. This interpretation is also supported by the Bible as in Luke 1:38 Mary acknowledges the news of Jesus(as) by saying ‘be it unto me according to thy word’. The Qur’an also presents a second interpretation regarding the title ‘Kalimat Allah’ (i.e. Word of Allah) in that Jesus(as) was a prophet through whom truth was spread in calling people to God. Again this also does not infer any status beyond that of prophethood as ascribed to other prophets who performed similar roles before Jesus(as). In The Heavenly Sign, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) expounds how the ‘Kalimatullah’ can be considered a spiritual state reserved for the very highest. Thus whilst the Holy Qur’an certainly uses similar termi- nology for Jesus(as) being a ‘Word of God’, it does not in anyway equate him with God, or a part of God. The Holy Spirit & Trinity Christians are familiar with the term ‘Holy Spirit’ or ‘Holy Ghost’. The ‘Holy Spirit’ is allegedly the third person in the trinity and Jesus(as) is recorded as referring to the ‘Holy Spirit’ several times in the Gospels (e.g. Matthew 12:31-32, Matthew 28:19, Mark 3:29, Mark 12:36, Mark 13:11) The use of the term Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost in the Bible strongly indicates that this is a manifestation of God’s power through the medium of His angels. Expressions such as the Holy Ghost ‘speaking through people’ or people being ‘strengthened or filled’ by the Holy Spirit suggest that it is an entity that works under God’s command to serve a particular spiritual purpose. It is sometimes mentioned alongside God but that alone is not sufficient to grant it divinity, for if that were the case then all others (e.g. John the Baptist(as) in Luke 1:15 is said to have been ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’) who were mentioned alongside the Holy Ghost should also be ascribed divinity as well, which they clearly are not. 44 The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON With this in mind when we read in Matthew 1:18 that Mary was found ‘with the child of the Holy Ghost’ it becomes clearer that this refers both to the spiritual status of Jesus(as) as a prophet as well as the fact that the news of the conception of Jesus(as) that was given to Mary by the Holy Spirit. Does the Qur’an offer any clarification on this issue? Again it is fascinating to see that similar terminology is used in the Holy Qur’an in several places. The Holy Qur’an mentions the Holy Spirit strengthening Jesus(as), When Allah will say ‘O Jesus son of Mary, remember My favour upon thee and upon they mother; when I strengthened thee with the Spirit of holiness so that thou didst speak to the people in the cradle and in middle age; and when I taught thee the Book and Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; … (Ch.5:V.111) It also relates that it is through the Holy Spirit that the Qur’an was revealed, Say, ‘The Spirit of holiness has brought it down from thy Lord with truth, that He may strengthen those who believe and as a guidance and glad tiding for Muslims’ (Ch.16:V.103) The ‘Ruh al Qudus’ or ‘Holy Spirit’ mentioned here is another name for the angel Gabriel since we know that the Holy Qur’an was revealed through Gabriel. Although at first the Holy Qur’an apparently parallels the Gospels in its nomenclature and terminology, the meaning of the term is very different in meaning in the two religions. In fact the Qur’anic account offers a helpful clarification of the biblical terminology which when re- applied to the Bible provides fresh insight into its true meaning. Rejection of Trinity in the Qur’an The idea that the Holy Spirit as part of a ‘trinity’ that makes up 45The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON the supreme deity in the universe is further rejected in no uncertain terms in the Holy Qur’an: They are surely disbelieves who say, ‘Allah is the third of three;’ there is no god but the One God. And if they do not desist from what they say, a grievous punishment shall surely befall those of them that disbelieve. (Ch.5:V.74) To make absolutely clear its perspective of the meaning of the terminology used in the Qur’an, it rejects in the strongest possible terms the idea of a Trinity. This additional emphasis on not just the unity of God but also the specific rejection of the Trinity is again aimed at removing misconceptions that may have gained favour amongst followers of Christianity. If there were any doubts over this based on the similar terminology and phraseology for Jesus(as) and the Holy Spirit then these clear rejections provide the final definitive answer to such false notions. And they say, ‘Allah has taken to Himself a son.’ Holy is He! Nay, everything in the Heavens and the earth belongs to Him. To Him are all obedient. (Ch.2:V.117) Allah has not taken unto Himself any son, nor is there any other God along with Him; in that case each god would have taken away what he had created, and some of them would, surely, have dominated over others. Glorified be Allah far above that which they attribute to Him; (Ch.23:V.92) They have indeed disbelieved who say, ‘Surely, Allah is none but the Messiah, son of Mary.’ Say, ‘Who then has any power against Allah, if He desire to bring to naught the Messiah, son of Mary, and his mother and all those that are in the earth?’ And to Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and what is between them. He creates what He pleases and 46 The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON Allah has power to do all things. (Ch.5:V.18) And when Allah will say, ‘O Jesus, son of Mary, didst thou say to men, ‘Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?’ he will answer, ‘Holy art Thou, I could never say that to which I had no right. If I had said it, Thou wouldst have surely known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. It is Thou alone Who art the Knower of hidden things; (Ch.5:V.117) What is very interesting is that modern day Christian scholar- ship now strongly supports the view of the Qur’an regarding Jesus(as). Today Biblical scholarship and textual criticism are areas in which the majority of scholars argue heavily against the idea of a trinity or Jesus(as) as part of God, and thus implicitly support the Qur’anic viewpoint of Jesus(as) as mortal man. Below are a few examples of such scholars and their publications. Thomas Sheehan In his highly acclaimed book, The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity, Sheehan analyses the person of Jesus(as) and relates how one Messianic figure was changed to the literal ‘Son of God’ and part of a Trinity. ‘Today, at the dawn of her third millennium, the Christian church is undergoing a crisis over the truth about Jesus of Nazareth. The crisis grows out of a fact now freely admitted by both Catholic and Protestant theologians: that as far as can be discerned from available histori- cal data, Jesus of Nazareth did not think he was divine, did not assert any of the messianic claims that the New Testament attributes to him, and went to his death without ever intending to found a new religion called ‘Christianity’’i Although his deconstruction of the person of Jesus(as) may be seen to go too far, in his denial that Jesus(as) claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, Sheehan’s 47The Review of Religions – December 2006 QUR’ANIC GUIDANCE ON A GOOD DIET vision of Jesus(as) is in line with the Islamic view of Jesus(as). E.P Sanders In his book ‘The Historical Figure of Jesus’ Sanders analysis what we know about Jesus(as) through detailed textual analysis. On the issue of his divinity and title as ‘Son of God’ he writes: ‘The early Christians, then, used ‘Son of God’ of Jesus but they did not think that he was a hybrid, half God and half human. They regarded ‘Son of God’ as a high designation, but we cannot go much beyond that…. The first followers of Jesus, however, when they started calling him ‘Son of God’, would have meant something much vaguer: a person standing in a special relationship to God, who chose him to accomplish a task of great importance.’ii Bishop John Shelby Spong In his bold ‘Why Christianity Must Change or Die’ the controversial Bishop writes: ‘Thus it was that by drawing on their sacred history, the first century Jewish folk found the words to talk about the God presence that they had met in Jesus. They knew no God except a God defined as an external being with supernatural powers, and so they described the God presence they met in Jesus in the only God language they knew how to use. God had come down by spiritual conception or by an outpouring of heavenly spirit upon him. Jesus was a spirit person, a window in to the holy, an incarnation of the divine. Underneath the description, however, lay an experience, and it is that experience that beckons us even as we set the literalness of their description of that experience aside.’iii Bishop Spong here expands the idea that referring to Jesus(as) as ‘God Incarnate’ was not a literal statement at all, but merely an expression of how the people felt that Jesus(as) was a special figure with great closeness to God. 48 The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON The Myth of God Incarnate The most comprehensive analysis of the divinity of Jesus(as) by prominent Christian scholars is a series of Essays compiled in a text entitled The Myth of God Incarnate. This book, edited by John Hicks, contains essays by: John Hicks (Professor of Theology); Don Cupitt (Lecturer in Divinity, Cambridge University); Michael Goulder (Staff Tutor in Theology, Birmingham University);Leslie Houlden (College Principle, Cuddesdon); Dennis Nineham (College Warden, Oxford); Maurice Wiles (Chairman of the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission). The conclusion of all these excellent essays is that the title of ‘Son of God’ is not a literal expression of any biological relationship. The ‘incarnation’ is thoroughly and strongly argued against throughout the treatise. Early on, in the first essay, Maurice Wiles put things in perspective: In the preface the overall conclusion and purpose of the book is explained: ‘The writers of this book are convinced that another major theological development is called for in this last part of the twentieth century. The need arises from growing knowledge of Christian origins, and involves a recognition that Jesus was (as he is presented in Acts 2:21) ‘a man approved by God’ for a special role within the divine purpose, and that the later conception of him as God incarnate, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity living a human life, is a mythological or poetic way of expressing his significance for us. This recognition is called for in the interests of truth;’iv In his essay ‘The Christ of Christendom’ he elaborates his view of the concept of Jesus(as) as ‘Son of God’. At the end of his essay, the 7th out of 10 in The Myth of God Incarnate he writes: ‘From all this I conclude that the doctrine of the incarnation has 49The Review of Religions – December 2006 DIVINITY AND TRINITY – A SCRIPTURAL COMPARISON had some harmful effects upon the understanding of Jesus’ message, on the understanding of his relation to God and even upon faith in God.’v Dr James Tabor Perhaps the most recent work on this subject comes from Dr James Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, The Jesus Dynasty. In this book, Dr Tabor attempts a reconstruction of the life of Jesus(as) based on the most reliable sources of scripture and evidence from archaeology. Dr Tabor’s book contains perhaps one of the clearest and most explicit affirmations of the truth of the Islamic view of Jesus(as) by a Christian scholar. In the conclusion to his treatise Dr Tabor writes: ‘There are some rather striking connections between the research I have presented in The Jesus Dynasty and the traditional beliefs of Islam. The Muslim emphasis on Jesus as a messianic prophet and teacher is quite parallel to what we find in the Q source, in the book of James, and in the Didache…there is little about the views of Jesus presented in this book that conflicts with Islam’s basic perception.’vi Beauty of The Holy Qur’an Over the centuries the Islamic viewpoint on Jesus(as) has been ignored to a large extent by the Christian scholars. The Christian orthodoxy has been strongly against any faith system or individual questioning the divinity of Christ. Groups denying this, such as the Christian group, the Cathars of the 11th and 12th century, were tortured heavily by the inquisition and crushed as rebellious heretics. In the last 150 years, however, there has been a new critical approach to the study of the Gospels. Scholars have started to analyse the narrative deeply and apply source criticism and review techniques applied to many historical documents to the Gospels themselves.