Reasons for why Muslims abhor the title ‘Son of God’

Not with standing the constant assertion that Muslims respect Jesus Christ as much as Christians do, Muslims are quick to repudiate the unique claims which we make for Him. Jesus, “Son of Mary”, as the Quran repeatedly calls Him, is for them only one of the prophets, and even so, not the last or the best.

> “He was no more than a servant: We granted Our favour to him, and We made him an example to the Children of Israel” (Az-Zukhruf 43:59).

    Loyalty to Muhammad and a natural preference for him are in themselves, sufficient reasons for their refusing to give Jesus “the name that is above every name“. But there is more; there is a kind of “jealousy for God,” as they understand any honour paid to Christ which, in effect, makes Him to be more than a man, more than a prophet encroaches on the province of God.

    Moreover, this jealousy is deeply rooted in the cardinal doctrine of tawhid, the Unity, which we find set forth repeatedly in the Quran, and if it be thought that the insistence of the Quran were by itself insufficient to imprint this doctrine on the minds of Muslims, the offence of shirk, “associating a partner” with God, is declared therein to be the one unpardonable sin.

    > “Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgiveth anything else, to whom He pleaseth; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed “(An-Nisa 4:48)

    > “Allah forgiveth not (the sin of) joining other gods with Him; but He forgiveth whom He pleaseth other sins than this: one, who joins other gods with Allah, Hath strayed far, far away” (An-Nisa 4:116).

      Mr. Yusuf Ali commenting on Sura 4; 48 states “Blasphemy in the spiritual kingdom is like treason in the political kingdom.………. this is rebellion against the essence and source of spiritual life” He goes on to explain that “The reference is to polytheism or the setting up of gods with Allah “.

      There seems little doubt that here – in the constant reiteration of the doctrine of tawhid, coupled with the dreaded sin of shirk – we come upon the two main factors which so strongly prejudice the minds of Muslims that they are not prepared to entertain any exposition of the deity of Christ, or any explanation of the divine incarnation. In particular, one detects strong resentment in their attitude to our use of the terms “Son”, and “Son of God”, with reference to Christ; it is not too much to say that, by giving to these terms the connotation they do, Muslims positively abhor the doctrine of the Son-ship of Christ. The mind of man grows by what it feeds upon and as the Quran repeatedly gives pre-eminence to the doctrine of the Unity of Allah the notion that Allah “has a son” is strengthened. Muhammad Ali states that “The Quran refers to the error of attributing a son to the divine being almost as frequently as to the doctrine of setting up idols with Allah”.

      Below we give quotations from the Quran that refer firstly to “Son-ship” in relation to the pagan Arabs and secondly “Son-ship” passages which refer to Christians. We will only give a few quotations although we could have provide many more.

       

      Passages referring to the pagan Arabs

      > “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him” (Al-Ikhlas 112:1-4).

        Muhammad Ali says of this short chapter: “It gives the sum and substance of the teachings of the Holy Quran, which is the declaration of the Unity of the divine being…. All other objects are secondary as compared with this. The chapter is one of the earliest revelations and contains a refutation not only of idolatry and Christianity, but of every polytheistic doctrine,” Muhammad himself is credited with having declared that the above chapter “is equal to a third of the Quran”. (Mishkatu’l-Masabih, Book 8, Chap 1, p.508, Volume 1, Matthew’s translation)

        >”Had Allah wished to take to Himself a son, He could have chosen whom He pleased out of those whom He doth create” (Az-Zumar 39:4)

        > ‘And Exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He has taken neither a wife nor a son” (Al-Jinn 72:3)

           

          Passages referring to Christians

          > “Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, “Be”, and it is” (Maryam 19:34,35).

          > “They say: “(Allah) Most Gracious has begotten a son!” Indeed ye have put forth a thing most monstrous! At it the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in utter ruin, That they should invoke a son for (Allah) Most Gracious. For it is not consonant with the majesty of (Allah) Most Gracious that He should beget a son” (Maryam 18:88-92).

           

          Comments on use of the term ‘son’ in the Quran

            The most cursory study of these and other verses leaves on the mind the following two clear impressions:

            1. The denunciations of the Quran are hurled at Christians equally with pagan Arabs for using such language in reference to God,

            2. The view of “son-ship” underlying the phrases is a grossly carnal one.

              The comments of so enlightened a Muslim as Mr. Yusuf Ali, on some of the passages quoted in the second group, abundantly confirm the latter impression in its reference to Christians: “Begetting a son is a physical act depending on the needs of men’s animal nature. God Most High is independent of all needs, and it is derogatory to Him to attribute such an act to Him” …………… “the belief in God begetting a son is not a question merely of words or of speculative thought. It is a stupendous blasphemy against God. It lowers God to the level of an animal” ……………… “if words have any meaning, it would mean an attribution to God of a material nature, and of the lower animal functions of sex”

              As for the Arabs, we know that they fully merited Muhammad’s strictures. His own towns-people of Mecca, among whom he spent over forty years of his life, worshipped hundreds of blocks of stone, taking them to be male and female deities. But what of the Christians? We can be sure that they would have spoken of Jesus as the “Son of God”, much as all Christians have from the first century until now. But Muhammad, influenced on the one hand by the current blasphemous expressions of the idolatrous Arabs, and on the other by the calumnies of the Jews who cast a slur on the names of both Jesus and Mary, still insisted that He be called Mary’s “holy son.” “He said: “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son” (Maryam 19:19). From this we may infer that, though he himself manifestly believed Jesus to have been supernaturally born, yet still he could only speak of Him as a “son” in the physical sense.

              Muhammad reprobated the use of such language as “Son of God”, because it inevitably suggested to him carnal relationship. It is all very well for modern commentators to insinuate that there would have been no objection to the use of such language had it been employed metaphorically, since both Jews and Christians were known to call themselves “sons of God” in the sense that they believed themselves to be specially beloved, or favoured, by the divine being. Muhammad himself knew that, yet the fact remains he seems to have been incapable of attaching any other than a carnal signification to this name by which Christians speak of Christ.

               

              The Christian’s authority for using the term ‘Son of God’: The Gospel

              Since such a gross conception of Christ’s Son-ship is no less offensive and blasphemous to our minds, a solemn obligation rests upon us to try to explain to Muslims what precisely we do mean when we speak of Jesus Christ as “the Son of God”. How is it that we have come to use this phrase and what is our authority for so doing? Many of us will be ready to confess that we have been accustomed to do so from childhood; the words had already been incorporated into our religious vocabulary before we began to consider their true import. That explains some of our embarrassment when we meet with the contradiction of Muslims. But we did not coin the phrase, nor has it crept into Christian usage in the course of the centuries. It is something that we associate with the very origins of Christianity. It is given to us in Scripture. We use it on the authority of the New Testament.

              Consider the following array of passages, by no means exhaustive:

              God Himself called Jesus His “Beloved Son” at the Baptism: > “And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11)

              And at the Transfiguration: > “And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Mark 9:7).

              Gabriel declared Jesus would be called “Son of God”: > “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35)

              The Baptist gave Jesus that name: > ” And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God”  (John 1:34).

              So did the disciples of Jesus: > “Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33, c/f 16:16; John 1:49; 11:27).

              Jesus used it of Himself: > “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live”  (John 5:25, c/f 10:36.11:4).

              The enemies of Jesus used it, implying that He also applied it to Himself: > “The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God” (John 19:7) ………………………….. “But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”  (Mark 14:61, c/f Matthew 26:63,27:43; Luke 22:70)

              The Apostle Paul so spoke of Him, Acts 9:20; Galatians 2:20 and elsewhere. Other writers so referred to Him, Hebrews 6:6; I John 2:22, 4:15; Revelation 2:18.

                There seems to be no doubt that Jesus used this phrase of Himself, or permitted its use by others, or let it be understood as being appropriate and applicable to Himself; moreover, we find that the Jews repeatedly took up stones to stone Him for what they considered blasphemous language on His part. And yet His offence, in their eyes, was not so much that He called Himself “Son of God,” as that by thus speaking, and by calling God His “Father,” He made Himself “equal with God” >”The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (John 10:33).

                  That, then, is the first thing to be said about the continuous and universal use of this phrase in the Christian Church we have scriptural authority for it; to be precise the authority of the New Testament.

                   

                  Enquiry into how this language, ‘Son of God’ is used in Scripture

                  1. It goes without saying that in no place is the phrase employed in a carnal sense, such as the Quran has in view.

                  2. He is not called ‘Son of God’ by virtue of the manner of His birth; conversely, it is not His birth that makes Him the ‘Son of God.’

                  3. The simple fact is that the phrase serves, primarily, as a designation, a title for the Messiah. Only in Luke 1:35 is it used in connection with the annunciation of the birth of Jesus, and even there its significance is that of a name be given to Him, the “Holy One.” As Bishop Gore has well said of this very passage: “Luke’s narrative suggests nothing more than that the child to be born was to be the promised Christ the ‘Son of the Highest’ (verse 32), and ‘Son of God’ would not, in the context, suggest anything more too Jewish ears”. In other words, it is after all, symbolic language, a metaphor, and not to be taken literally. Even so, of all the terms used for Christ it is the one which best does justice to our experience of Him.

                  4. Furthermore, the use of the term ‘Son’ in this sense has a history. It was in use in pre-Christian times. (cp. 2 Edras, 2:45, The Apocrypha) Gradually among the Jews the conception of the Messiah as the ‘Son‘, i.e. of God, became part of a fixed tradition in the period immediately preceding the advent of Jesus.

                    But there is much more to it than this Messianic colouring, prominent though that was to the minds of Jesus and the Jews. In the New Testament the phrase contains the very special idea that the consciousness of Jesus towards God was a truly filial consciousness. God was to Him ‘Father’; He was to God ‘Son’. These two lines of usage converge and help us to establish the conclusion concerning the inner significance of such language, True, in the Synoptic gospels this filial relationship is felt as an underlying supposition of the narrative rather than directly expressed in it. Yet, even in them, it is occasionally mentioned as expressly stated in Matthew 11:25-30:

                    > “No one knoweth the Son save the Father; neither doth any know the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him”. (These words have been called “the greatest Christological passage in the New Testament” and are held to belong to “the very oldest and safest strand of evidence”).

                      In the Fourth Gospel the theme is given great prominence, and is worked out in a variety of detail. Moreover, the evangelist stresses the fact that this relationship existed long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

                      Still further significance attaches to this name from the fact that the early Church, following the apostles and most of all Paul, came to identify Jesus with the ‘Son of God’, and so spoke of Him, on the ground of what He achieved historically. Consider for a moment the terms in which Paul, for instance, refers to the One who has wrought so great salvation for himself and others:

                      >”The Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me ” (Galatians 2:20).

                        He does not think of speaking of Jesus in this connection as ‘The Messiah’, or ‘Son of Man’, or ‘The Word’. Only the designation ‘Son of God’ will suffice. He and the rest were forced to name Him so because of their experience; it wasn’t that they were predisposed to so. To quote the late Bishop Gore again: “Belief in Him, ‘The Christ’, as ‘Lord’, and as ‘Son of God’, was claimed by the original apostles on the ground of what they had themselves seen and heard during their experience extending over all the time the Lord Jesus moved among them.”

                         

                        by L Bevan Jones – Copyright © 2011 “Message 4 Muslims” All rights reserved.

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