Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jesus, the Son of God

Roland Clarke

Muslims find it extremely difficult to understand and accept the Bible's teaching that Jesus is the Son of God. Here are some suggestions that may help to explain this term.

1. First, it is vital to realize that the term son is used figuratively in literature as illustrated in the phrase “son of the road” meaning traveller, or “son of the bow” meaning “arrow”. (Job 41:28)

2. This figure of speech is also evident when speaking of Satan. For example the Bible and the Qur'an speak of the Devil having “offspring” or children. Surah 18:50 says Satan “was of one of the Jinns, and he broke the command of his Lord. Will ye then take him and his progeny [offspring], as protectors rather than Me? And they are enemies to you! Evil would be the exchange for the wrong-doers! Notice the Bible describes Satan using similar imagery. We read in John 8:42-44 a heated exchange which Jesus had with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus said to them,

If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning... (cf. Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:8-10,12)

The above two examples make it clear that the word “son” does not necessarily imply birth through the union of a woman with a man (or a spirit such as Satan). Someone can be a son or child of Satan because he/she has similar traits, as in the proverbial saying, “like father, like son.”

Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders, saying, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God” but they were hateful and wanted to murder Jesus. We see this contrast again in 1 John 3:10-13;

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.

Jesus instructed his followers to show love towards fellow human beings, even our enemies. We read in Matthew 5:43-48;

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

We can summarize this point: whereas hatred and murder are prominent traits of the Devil and his children, love is the dominant trait of God and his children.

3. Now let us consider a somewhat different example of a figurative use of “son of God” as found in Luke 3:38. This verse is the conclusion of a long list of names tracing the history of Christ's ancestry. The last person, Adam, is “the son of God.” In what sense is he God's son?

The simplest and most obvious way of explaining this expression is that Adam is like God because he was made in God's image. Some Muslims reject this implication not wanting to endorse the Jewish Tanakh and Christian Bible. However, a team of six international Islamic scholars have plainly admitted this fact in their recent publication, The Study Qur'an. A footnote to Surah 95:4 quotes the phrase in Surah 64:3, “human beings are the best of God's creation” and also references a famous hadith qudsi which echoes Genesis 1:27, “Truly God created Adam in His image.” Remarkably, the footnote actually references Genesis 1:27 and then continues, “This hadith is understood to mean that human beings are created with such attributes as life, knowledge, power, will, speech, hearing and sight (the qualities most often used in Islamic theology) to describe God which are, in fact, Divine attributes.”

4. Second Samuel 7:10-17 sheds further light on the figurative use of “son of God.” In this paragraph God promised to build a house, a kingdom, for David. God explained that he would be a father to Solomon and subsequent kings who succeeded him on the throne of David.

“10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

It is interesting to see how sonship implies the need for discipline when the son sins. We see this again in Hebrews 12:6-7, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastens every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”

David's son, Solomon, sinned by taking many wives and turning his heart away from the pure worship of God. In one way or the other, the kings who succeeded Solomon also sinned and were disciplined, until finally, Jesus the Messiah, David's greater son. He lived a perfectly sinless and righteous life, therefore, he did not need to be disciplined/punished for committing any sin. In fact, he was commended repeatedly as pleasing his Father God.

A sampling of these statements follows:

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

On another occasion Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:28-29) Furthermore, Jesus said to those who were filled with hatred and wanted to kill him, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46)

Since Jesus was the only person to achieve a perfect life he was the perfect reflection of his Father. As followers of Jesus we are welcomed into God's family as his adopted children. But Jesus is different. He is God's Son, not in the biological sense, yet in the truest and fullest sense, hence the title, “one and only Son” of God. (John 3:16) Even before he was miraculously conceived by the Spirit in the virgin's womb, he was the Son of God in heaven. (John 16:28; 8:42)

5. We've seen how God called Jesus “my beloved Son”, but now let us look briefly at some key points in Christ's life that confirm this truth.

a) Christ's birth. The angel appeared to Mary and told her she would have a special son: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

b) Christ's closest disciples recognize his sonship. Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16)

c) Demons acknowledge Jesus. Christ's disciples were not the only ones who confessed that he is the Son of God, his enemies, the evil spirits, also acknowledged this, as we read in Mark 5:7-8; “And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

d) At his trial. At Christ's trial the Jewish religious leaders accused him of claiming to be God's Son and his Messiah. They said, “If you are the Christ [Messiah], tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.” (Luke 22:67-71)

6. Father of all

As we conclude, let us consider four Scriptures that shed further light on God as Father of mankind. The first two verses clearly say God is Father to mankind in a general sense whereas the next two verses implicitly affirm this. Ephesians 4:6 says, “God is Father of all” and in the previous chapter the apostle Paul bows his “knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” (Ephesians 3:14)

We read elsewhere how Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24) Bear in mind that this woman was a follower of the Samaritan religion. As such, she was snared in a false religious cult, although in some respects her religion and culture shared significant similarities with Judaism. The bottom line is: Samaritans did not really know God as Saviour. Then after two days of hearing Jesus' teaching, they acknowledged that he is the Messiah who brings God's salvation. (John 4:22; 39-42)

The next passage we will look at from the Gospel (Injil) is Luke chapter 15 which recounts the story of the prodigal son. The basic truth underlying this story is that God, as Father to an elder and younger son, wants both to be restored to himself. Tragically, however, the self-righteous older brother (like the Pharisees) refuses to rejoice with God (and his angels, v.10) over one sinner who truly repents.

In conclusion, let us not be like the older brother but rather show love to all humans as they are God's prodigal children. Let us invite them to Jesus. 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

John Gilchrist explains in an article, how Abraham's sacrificial giving of his "only son" prefigure's God giving his only Son. You will find this article, “Isaac: A Reflection of the Father's Love”, a truly eye-opening read.

All Bible quotes are taken from the English Standard Version unless noted otherwise.

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The Qur'an repeatedly condemns associating anything or anyone with Allah/God. Accordingly Islam does not permit its followers to call God Father and vehemently condemns the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. To believe this doctrine is to commit the unforgivable sin.

The Bible, of course, declares the foundational truth that Jesus is the one and only Son of God yet it also refers to God as Father to all mankind in a general sense as is seen in the parable of the prodigal son. Furthermore, Jesus taught that we ought to love our enemies and thus imitate our heavenly Father who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Why are Muslims so strongly opposed to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God? One reason (among others) is a common misunderstanding of the familial terms in the Bible pertaining to God as Father and Jesus as Son. For example, Surah 5:116 condemns something never found in the Bible: that God is one of three – God, Jesus and Mary. An article in Wikipedia, Islamic view of the Trinity, says, “Regarding the verse 5:116, some scholars have written that the version of the "Trinity" concept that the Qur'an is criticizing appears to be God, Jesus, and Mary; and that this is not a description of orthodox Christian belief, wherein the third part of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit.” This misconception has caused Muslims to be confused, mislead and ensnared in falsehood. I pray that the Lord will open the minds of Muslims to explore and discuss this crucial topic of Jesus as Son of God with Christian friends.

If you want to examine more carefully the Islamic denial of God as Father as seen in the Qur'an and Hadith check this online article titled, Islam has no Father.

Appendix: How can we broach controversial topics such as Christ's sonship or God's fatherhood?

Sometimes it is wiser to approach this sensitive topic using an indirect, rather than a direct approach. Notice, for example that Jesus often alluded to the fatherhood of God, almost in passing, without specially highlighting it. We see this in Christ's encounter with the Samaritans in John chapter four. As the story unfolds Jesus mentions God as the Father who seeks true worshippers. So many details of this story convey an undeniable ring of truth, even for Muslim readers. Moreover, the theme of “seeking” calls to mind the fascinating story of the prodigal son with a merciful, forgiving Father as the hero figure. (Luke 15)

Another Scripture which alludes to God as a Father-figure is Luke 11:11-13. There's also the familiar words “Our Father” in the Lord's prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13; see also Matthew 5:9)

A more direct way of broaching the topic of God as Father involves comparing how Adam and Jesus were called son of God.  If indeed, Adam was the “son of God” because he was made in the image and likeness of God, can we not agree that Jesus was even moreso "the Son of God"? This, in turn, opens the door to discuss a number of ways that Jesus is similar to God as Father. In fact, a careful examination shows that he fully resembles God.

Whereas Adam (& his offspring) failed to truly obey God, the woman's offspring, (i.e. the Messiah) lived a life of full obedience to God. Notice especially how Jesus Christ resembled God in a number of astonishing ways. He forgave people's sin. (Mark 2:5-9; Luke 7:36-48) Similarly in Luke 19:1-10, that Jesus “brought God's salvation” to Zacchaeus' house, fulfilling Messianic prophecy. (Isaiah 49:6; cf. John 4:42) Here is another thought provoking observation: Christ raised the dead, thus showing that he exercised Divine authority. (John 5:24-29; cf. 17:2-3; 1 Timothy 1:10)

In conclusion, Scripture declares, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. ... For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him”. (Colossians 1:15-20)