First, watch this quick video, ‘Jesus of the Quran is an Argument’ (on a tip from Zack T):
To summarize, the video contends that Jesus as portrayed by the Bible is a real person – complete with details about His personality, family, life and ministry, and surrounded by the context of the locales, culture, politics and historical events of the times.
Whereas Jesus as portrayed by the Quran (i.e. Nabi Isa) is a two-dimensional figure, excerpted and displaced from the Bible solely almost as an afterthought, for the purpose of one single argument – that God did not have a son that He sent to die for our sins.
Now allow me to expand further upon the differences between Jesus of the Bible and Isa of the Quran and Hadith.
As you might know, various accounts and events involving prophets of the One True God are found in both the Bible and the Quran & Hadith, albeit with different details. Superficial similarities like their names and most famous deeds aside, upon closer inspection the actual micro-details and macro-narrative are found to be wholly different.
The Islamic account – redacted and stripped of the rich context, history, allusions to other Biblical passages, and prophetic tradition found in the Biblical account – may be interesting as a little anecdote by itself. However, it does not have an overarching grand meaning. Nowhere is this more noticeable than the story of Jesus vs. the story of Isa.
To clarify: The entire Biblical narrative points/builds up towards the redemption through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Prophecies, parallels and foreshadowings of Jesus’ Messianic mission are sprinkled throughout the Old Testament. Even the earliest chapters – such as in Genesis with Adam’s sin affecting all humanity, and the prophecy of Eve’s offspring facing off against the serpent’s, or even (some say) the very names of the generations of Patriarchs – can have a Messianic application.
Thus not only does the lack of context surrounding Isa strip the story of its own epic meaning – it also reduces the epic meaning of other narratives as well! See the Abraham example below for an instance of what I am talking about.
So that having been said, allow me to explain why ‘Jesus of the Quran is Meaningless’ – or rather, ‘Isa of the Quran is Meaningless’ – by way of several examples, each of which hinges on the aforementioned roles of Jesus Christ vs. the non-roles of Al Masih Isa.
Abraham is Commanded to Sacrifice Isaac / Ibrahim is Commanded to Sacrifice His Son
The Biblical account has YHWH commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac – the very son promised to him by YHWH as the first of descendants whose number would be uncountable. Heavy hearted but obedient, Abraham prepares to do so – still fully trusting by faith that somehow, YHWH would not break His promise to give him descendants. At the last minute, the sacrifice is stopped and a ram is provided instead. Abraham has proved his devotion to YHWH, that exceeds even his love for his own son. It is worth noting that Isaac would have been a young man by then, fully capable of overpowering his 100+ year old father, and thus must have also willingly agreed to give up his life.
The Islamic version has Allah asking Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, whose name is not stated but is generally taken to be Ismail (the Islamic version of Ishmael). Similar to the Biblical account, at the last minute the sacrifice is stopped. The son similarly submits willingly to Allah’s will that he be sacrificed. In Quran 37:107-109 it says, “And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice” but does not mention exactly what the ransom was, so the Biblical ram has no parallel in the Quranic account.
Within the Biblical narrative, the parallel of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his ‘only son’ (as Ishmael was conceived not through YHWH’s promise) is clear to see – it is a foreshadowing of YHWH’s willingness to sacrifice His only son, Jesus. Like Isaac, Jesus was willing to go along with the sacrifice planned by His father. Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac was replaced with a ram provided by YHWH – another parallel to Jesus being the ‘lamb of God’.
Additionally, the whole idea of sacrifice has roots deep in the Jewish/Mosaic tradition of atoning blood sacrifice for sins, where a life is given as a substitution for one’s sins. This tradition is non-existant in Islam, the only sacrifice of an animal being sacrificed is Eid al-Adha – to commemorate the very event of Ibrahim being willing to sacrifice his son.
That matter of atoning, substitutionary sacrifice actually leads me to my next example…
The Virgin Birth
The Biblical accounts has Mary conceiving Jesus without aid from a man – ‘the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name God-With-Us’ as Isaiah 7:14 prophesies.
The Islamic account similarly has Mariyam conceiving Isa without aid from a man. No applicable prophecy is mentioned.
In Christianity, the reason for the virgin birth of Jesus is due to Adam’s sin which has been passed down through all generations of humanity (Romans 5:12). But Jesus, not conceived by a human father, is free from this hereditary ‘original sin’ – thus able to truly be a ‘sacrifice without blemish’ (Hebrews 9:14; compare sacrifices in Mosaic law). Furthermore, paralleling Adam’s condemnation of all humanity through one man’s sin, Jesus saves all of humanity through one man’s sacrifice (Romans 5:17).
What is the significance and meaning of the virgin birth of Isa, if he is not meant to be a flawless redemptive sacrifice? After all, every other prophet was also perfect and given the ability to be free from sin by Allah. What purpose does being born of a virgin signify?
The Christ, The Messiah
Christ and Messiah both mean the same thing – ‘anointed one’, that is, one who is chosen by God to be priest (Exodus 28:41) or king (1st Samuel 16:12-13). In Jesus’ case, it is both simultaneously.
Now, in the Bible there is a TREMENDOUS amount of Messianic prophecy! At least 129 different prophecies in 300 passages, by one count. This gives a very detailed and specific list of criteria the Messiah would need to fulfil – everything from birthplace, to actions in life, to method of death and burial, and especially various attributes (e.g. divinity, purpose, sacrifice).
By contrast, the Islamic account merely mentions that Isa is the Al Masih, which is translated to ‘the Messiah’ (you can see the word similarities). Further than that, it is totally devoid of any deeper meaning. What is a ‘Masih’? What role does he fulfil, what greater purpose does he carry out that ‘normal’ prophets do not, what importance does he have? Even the Dajjal (anti-Christ) has a more detailed description in Islamic scripture!
But wait – to be fair, the Islamic accounts do state some things that Isa supposedly would do as a ‘sign’:
“And (appoint him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): “‘I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe; – Quran 003.049
Okay, so clay birds becoming living birds, the blind seeing, lepers being healed, the dead raised back to life… These are all signs. Fair enough.
Now compare the Biblical account:
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. – Matthew 11:2-4
Quite similar to the Islamic account, yes? It is even more direct in its linking specific miracles to Messiahhood, to the point that Jesus gives His ‘resume’ as an answer to John the Baptist’s asking whether He is the Messiah.
John, as a true prophet of YHWH, would have recognized Jesus’ laying claim to these passages:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. – Isaiah 35:5-6
In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, And the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The humble also shall increase their joy in the LORD, And the poor among men shall rejoice In the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:18-19
Hear, you deaf; And look, you blind, that you may see. – Isaiah 42:18
But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. – Isaiah 26:19
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. – Isaiah 61:1
The part about curing leprosy doesn’t seem to be in any Messianic prophecy, but compare it to how Naaman was healed of leprosy – he had to sumberge himself in the river, just like how John was baptizing people who repented of their sins.
So where is the context or references for the Islamic list of signs? Is it from the Torah, which according to another passage has been ‘corrupted’ by the Jews and Christians? And what is the reference for transforming a clay bird into living flesh (a story that comes from the Gnostic originated, apocryphal Infancy Gospel)? Oh wait, I can think of one – it’s YHWH breathing into dust to create Adam. But wouldn’t this be in contradiction to the Islamic insistence that Jesus is not in any way divine?
All that aside, what about all the other attributes of the Messiah?
In summary, it seems that the title ‘Messiah’ was simply plucked out and re-applied without any true comprehension of the deep and meaningful roles and responsibilities that come with the title. It’s a case of MINO, Messiah In Name Only.
To be snarky, it’s like someone being ‘President of the USA’ so he can make grand speeches, shake hands with world leaders and relax at Camp David – but without aiming to take up the responsibility of actual leading, including making hard or unpopular decisions in tough circumstances. (No prizes for guessing who exactly I’m alluding to here!)
In conclusion, even from just the above examples, the scant mention of Isa in the Quran fails to draw any deeper meaning. Of course this fits with the Islamic view that Isa was ‘just another prophet’, maybe a little more conequential than others who came before… But the many incidental details that are present in the Quranic accounts seem to be transferred from the Biblical accounts with none of the corresponding (and very important) context.
Whereas in the New Testament, we find the life and teachings, the death and resurrection, the ascension and subsequent guidance of Jesus fully fleshed out… And through that, we learn that the entirety of the Old Testament also bears witness to Jesus’ redemptive act in the form of prophecy, foreshadowing and typology.
Or can anyone educate me otherwise?
See also more along these lines at Do Islam and the Quran Have Typological Connections to the Old Testament?