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Quran 4:171: A denial that Jesus Christ is God?

Many Muslims claim that the Qur’an denies that Jesus Christ is God and one of their references is the following verse in the Qur’an:

“O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not ‘Three’ - Cease! (it is) better for you! - Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender” (Qur’an 4:171).

This verse has been added to the Qur’an after the claims of the Nestorian Christians of Najran, that Mary is a God. This claim and the related story in the Qur’an needs to be verified.

Word of God and Spirit of God

“And His Word, which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him” implies that Jesus Christ is called “Word of God”, see also Qur’an 2:87 and 3:45. The Word of God entered into the womb of Mary and assumed the physical form of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is also “Spirit of God” to give him the capability to do signs, supernatural miracles and to be God’s mercy as explained in Qur’an 2:87, 3:45 and 5:110. Therefore the message of this verse is not to downplay Jesus Christ as an ordinary man, because Jesus Christ has an exceptional nature (e.g. Qur’an 2:253, 3:45 and 43:61-63).

Transcendent Majesty of the Most High

“Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty” means that the true message of this verse is to exalt the Most High above all, a confirmation of what the Previous Scriptures, the Bible, is telling us:

"O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens." (Psalm 8:1)

So, the message of Qur’an 4:171 is not to say much about the Most High, because he is beyond all human limits and human wisdom, see also Qur’an 3:54. Therefore it is better for a human being to limit only to the truth and the existence of God, God’s righteousness, God’s grace and his leadership in the world.

Rejection of three gods

“And say not ‘Three’” is connected with the rejection of three gods. One of the “Three” is Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ (Qur’an 5:116). However, this was a reaction against some Christians who called Mary "God-bearer" and therefore divine [1]. Mainstream Christianity has never declared that there are three gods. In Qur’an 5:116 is declared that Mary is a god. But in mainstream Christianity, Mary was never divine. The doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are one God and not about three external gods, but about God’s internal relations [2]. It is better to concentrate on the essence of life: to seek the Most High, his righteousness and his salvation. It is a suggestion to leave the Trinity to advanced academic scholars. To understand the Trinity is not needed to enter Paradise.

Denial of a biological son of God

“That He should have a son” this denial of Jesus as Son of God is within the context of the pagan Arabia in 7th century. Before Muhammad the Arabs considered their idols as ‘Daughters of Allah’. Muhammad told the pagan Arabs that Allah is one and cannot have daughters, so he also had to say that Allah cannot have a son. However Muhammad was thinking about Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Qur’an 43:81). It is remarkable that in Qur’an 4:158 the verb ittakhadha was used, meaning “took to Himself” and this doesn’t suggest physical generation, but a relation by adopting. However, Jesus has a very high position in the Qur’an: “[And mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ].” (Qur’an 3:45). According to Qur’an 3:45, Jesus is a person with extreme dignity in heaven and earth. This means

Conclusion

The Qur'an opens many ways to accept that Jesus is more than just a prophet or messenger. The Qur’an refers for final details about the life of Jesus the Messiah to the Previous Scriptures (Qurán 10:94). Recent history shows more openess under Muslims for the divine attributes of Jesus the Messiah. Qur’an 4:171 is not a denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Notes

  1. David Thomas, Trinity, in: Jane Dammen McAuliffe (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, Leiden, 2002, Volume Five, 369.
  2. Hans Küng, Islam, Past, Present & Future, Oxford, 2009, 512.
  3. Ali Merad, Christ According to the Qur’an, Encounter 1980-81: Documents for muslim-christian understanding n. 69, Roma, 1980.

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