If you have ever attended a Muslim-Christian interfaith presentation or had an interfaith conversation with an acquaintance, you may have wondered why your Christian colleague could be so adamant about Jesus being more than a human being—somehow “God”—even though no one can argue that Jesus made an unequivocally clear claim of this for himself.

WHAT’S COMING IN THIS SERIES

IN THIS SERIES, of which this article is the first, we depict for Al-Jumuah readers a Christian defense of a tripartite, or ‘Trinitarian,’ ‘monotheism’ and the process through which Christianity has arrived at such an overtly illogical state of belief—which modern Christians are pressed to justify (unless they adopt a Unitarian position)—in regard to understanding who Jesus (A.S) is in relationship to the One God.

Accurate knowledge is a prerequisite for engaging in fair and effective interfaith dialogue, whether public or private. Few Christians are aware of the philosophical underpinnings of their church’s belief system; even those who can quote their Bibles [in English translation] often do not understand the historical assumptions standing behind the interpretations they have been taught as basic bedrock belief.

If Muslims are going to be able to present the basic tenets of Islam in a way that makes sense to their Christian compatriots, our God-talk must be done from a Muslim awareness of what Christians accept as true, and, in attentiveness to how Christians feel about Jesus (A.S).

ISLAMIC MONOTHEISM (TAWHID)

We Muslims are clear about how we understand “monotheism,” or, taw ḥîd:

Lâ ilâha illa’Llâh, wa ḥdahû, lâ sharîka lahu. 

There exists no  [would-be] deity [worthy of worship] other than Allah, alone, without partner or peer.

Following the Quran and the a ḥâdîth of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, Muslims deny the existence of any would-be deity, or ’supernatural’ force, other than ‘the One God,’ exalted and most highin Arabic ‘Allah’who alone is behind all that is.

This is a maximally strong assertion—some would say ‘strict’—in the face of the frequent impulse throughout the venture of historically chronicled religion, to materialize the Transcendent One, to make Him ‘immanent’ in the form of a ‘godlike’ person so as to reflect for a community—based on the group’s own rationale, i.e., without revealed authority—who they assume God to be.

When we Muslims talk about taw ḥîd, we mean that this ‘God-without-any-other-gods-besides-Him’ is unique among existent beings, singular in countability, and an undivided whole in terms of who He is and what He does.

In reality, God is closer to His created beings than any two of His creatures are close to each other. His eternal existence depends solely upon Himself, whereas the existence of His creatures depend, likewise, directly upon Him, their Creator. Though unseen by our physical senses in our material world of time and space, He ‘sees’ us and knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.

The Transcendent One maintains the continuance of our lives, for an allotted period of time, during which there are in force, at His discretion, certain physical laws which we cannot ‘break’ without immediate blowback. And, in a parallel fashion, He has ordained for us a moral law which we must strive to keep, within the latitude of a certain amount of free rein.

While not “immanent,” Allah,  exalted and most high, does maintain a ubiquitous ‘Presence’ in our affairs:  He ‘sees’ and He ‘hears’ all things. He ‘guides’ to the correct way. He ‘makes a way out’ for us from our difficulties.

Yet, He does not Himself, in His Essence, ‘exist’ within our world—not in any empirically observable sense, as would be required by modern Science in order to verify [or falsify] Him. Thus, it is not correct to complain that ‘God is dead’—as certain philosophers or theologians did in the 1960’s, when He was blamed for apparently not acting [in the World Wars, for example] to prevent some of us from mutual massive destruction. On the contrary, He has always existed ‘behind’ His creation, bringing His good out of our bad, while giving us a measured ‘free will’ to corrupt as well as to preserve the good.

By contrast to us Muslims in following our Prophet ﷺ, traditional Christians beginning from their early centuries, have followed not Jesus’ teaching (see quotations from Jesus below), but rather Church theologians—despite seeing themselves as ‘monotheists.’ Instead, the Church has opted for an immanent God-man as central to her worship (unlike its Jewish predecessors), thereby displacing and thus nullifying the uniquely divine status of the purely transcendent Creator.

THE UNSEEN

Atheists, by the way, actually have it right when they argue that God does not exist in the empirically perceptible world as accessible to Science; unfortunately though, atheists wrongly jump to conclude that God therefore does not exist at all—because current Scientific Method has not developed a mechanism able to measure certainty about a physically imperceptible, Unseen realm. As long as anything labeled “metaphysical” is anathema to modern Science, God will remain non-existent in their closed-system, limited-concept world.

For those of us who do acknowledge a whole ‘nother sphere of reality—including the unseen, behind-the-scenes Mastercontrol of our everyday experience—the physical wonders in His created world are signs to encourage our already innate longing to discover and submit to the ways of our Creator, trusting Him for Guidance. We have an inbuilt yearning to live in harmony with the ‘original equipment’ genetically installed within ourselves.

In that veiled world—concerning which we do know a few things, though only a little, through prophetic revelation—Allah, subhanahu wa taʿâla, exalted and most high, has no partner, peer or associate with whom He confers in His handling of affairs. When—to us in our world of time and space—He sometimes sends perceptable [non-human] angels or [human] prophets, they are His servants, submitting to His command.

Angels and prophets are NOT His confidants, or co-creators, or junior deities, or ‘begotten Sons’—not literally, and not even figuratively. That is, He is not ‘begotten,’ and He does not ‘beget’ [112:1-4]—not because there is, or could be, anything impossible for Almighty God, but because replication of Himself is outside the confines of the system in which He has chosen to install us.

Say [to them]: He is only one God–God the Eternal Absolute. He neither begets nor was He begotten, and there is nothing equal to Him. (Sûrat Al-Ikhlâ ṣ, 112:1-4)

He is the One, the exclusive One, the One Who cannot NOT exist, in keeping with the structure of the world in which we live. That is, He must exist by necessity!  His existence is the only underived existence, the only real reality (Al-Ḥaqq). He exists independently of all else, and the contingent existence of the world—in which we have a stake and which includes our existence—owes its being to Him.

We do not create ourselves, or conceive ourselves, or give ourselves birth—and, even though we participate in all segments of our lives, only He has the only say in determining the point at which we depart this earthly plane, just as He had the only say in the matter of our coming into it.

While such a plain vanilla understanding of ‘One Deity’ may seem to us Muslims as logically self-evident and beyond dispute, not so in interfaith dialogue with Christians. It is essential for us to be educated regarding the in’s and out’s of Christian doctrine regarding ‘monotheism,’ and how it went through much Greek philosophical tweaking and fine-tuning so as to conform itself to the cultural environment of its early development days.

Inshâ’Allâh, we shall be examining and commenting on several books as a means for us as a Muslim community to get a handle on what will be labeled below, first ‘Christian monotheism,’ and later ‘Christological monotheism’—which to us Muslims (and to our Jewish colleagues) is a contradiction in terms. Yet, to the Christian establishment, this doctrine is received as a brilliantly crafted theological piece of work—well, at least historically it was seen this way centuries ago in the midst of a surrounding philosophically-sophisticated pagan culture.

CHRISTIAN MONOTHEISM

As a basis for the first part of our exploration of Christian ‘monotheism,’ we look to the University of Durham (U.K.) professor, Dr. James D. G. Dunn in his book, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence (2010, Westminster John Know Press: Louisville, KY). 

 http://www.wjkbooks.com/Products/0664231969/did-the-first-christians-worship-jesus.aspx

Also, we refer frequently to the Bible, which consists of two major divisions:  first, what is referred to by Christians as the Old Testament (OT), meaning the Jewish Bible (or, Hebrew Bible), and secondly, the New Testament (NT), which was later added to the OT to comprise the Christian Bible.

Dunn’s in-depth work in the study of this crucial-for-Christians topic, as presented in this 150-page study of his, is an ideal window for us Muslims as an introduction to what Christians believe and feel about Jesus (A.S). The core question tackled in Dunn’s work is a successively developed refinement of the book’s title, namely: How is it that Jesus can be regarded as ‘divine’ and thus be worthy of ‘worship’ alongside God—if the first Christians were truly monotheists in the sense that Jews, Banî Isrâ’îl (including Jesus!), were monotheists?

Dunn quotes the following sayings of Jesus to remind his Christian readers that Jesus—to us Prophet ʿIsa (A.S)—was a ‘Jew’ (that is, a member of Banî Isrâ’îl) and that as such he affirmed the exclusivity of God:

(Bible [i], Mark 10:17-18) As Jesus was starting on his way again, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?”  Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone…”

(Bible, Matthew 4:10) …Then Jesus answered, “Go away, Satan! The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’” (Also: Luke 4:8)

To Dunn’s NT references above we might also add Jesus’ quotation from the Torah:

(Bible, Mark 12:28-29, 32) A teacher of the Law was there who heard the discussion. He saw that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer, so he came to him with a question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “The most important one is this: ‘Listen, Israel!  The Lord our God is the only Lord.…The teacher of the Law said to Jesus, “Well done, Teacher!  It is true, as you say, that only the Lord is God and that there is no other god but him.

Beyond the Christian-Muslim (as well as Christian-Jewish) interfaith stumbling block regarding ‘monotheism,’ to which Dunn refers (p.1), he himself admits that even Christians themselves commonly find the oneness of God (for us taw ḥîd) compromised if Jesus (A.S) is to be regarded as ‘divine’ and accordingly considered as ‘worthy of worship’ in the same way that God is worthy of worship–since the ‘divine-ness’ or ‘deity’ of Jesus is a Christian belief affirmed in the 4th century Nicene Creed and still confessed today by Christians. (p.1)

The Church Council of 325ce, which met in the eastern Asia Minor city of Nicaea [in present-day Turkey] used carefully crafted language to assert the concept that Jesus was by nature of the same essence as that of the transcendent God—even though many who were present at the Council opposed this view.

This issue continued to be a live political football for decades and a cause for continued violence among the adamant supporters of the two opposing views—to be addressed later in the series, beginning in Part 6.

CHRISTIAN WORSHIP

So, for us wanting to see where Dunn is going to end up in his discussion, we find, right off the bat, his answer-in-a-nutshell to this paradox which he labels  ‘Christological monotheism’ (p.4):

What I hope will become apparent is that the first Christians did not see worship of Jesus as an alternative to worship of God. Rather, it was a way of worshipping God.  That is to say, worship of Jesus is only possible or acceptable within what is now understood to be a Trinitarian framework. Worship of Jesus that is not worship of God through Jesus, or, more completely, worship of God through Jesus and in the Spirit, is not Christian worship. (p.6) [italics and bold added]

Clearly for us Muslims, this kind of worship (“worship of God through Jesus”) is a blatant violation of basic monotheism (wa ḥdahû lâ sharîkah lahu = “alone, without partner or peer”). Dunn explains that the concept of ‘Trinity’ can make no sense to modern, analytically-minded Christians apart from the Greek philosophical categories in which this ‘credo’ was propounded in the early centuries:

The Trinity is a theological doctrine, meaning a man-made, scholastic explication by religious authorities, positing that there is one ‘Godhead’ consisting of one divine essence but operating in three manifestations or roles (‘persons’) in human experience: ‘Father’ (=God), ‘Son’ (=Jesus) and ‘Holy Spirit’ (=the personified experience of divine guidance and help.

There is an obvious need, says Dunn, for this overt contradiction to be explained to Christians, and that is what he sets out to do in this book, namely, to justify that a Trinitarian formulation of Deity does not mean ‘three gods,’ or, ‘three Gods’ (‘tri-theism’).

‘CHRIST’ AND ‘CHRISTIAN’

Note that ‘Christ’ is a title used in Christian writings referring to Jesus—to which we shall return later in this series—a title which has been loaded with ecclesiastical meaning, that is, meaning infused with the Traditions of Church authorities. The term ‘a Christian’ of course refers to a follower of Jesus understood in the light of the theological (doctrinal) term, ‘Christ.’

LOGIC IN THEOLOGY?

So now, if Christians are truly ‘monotheists,’ as they indisputably and unwaveringly have always claimed, then how can Jesus be the same God as the God to whom the [admittedly human] Jesus prayed?

1. If Jesus is ‘God’ but not the same ‘God’ as the one to whom he prayed, then aren’t there more “God’s” than the one God?

2. If both Jesus and the Creator are ‘God,’ but not the same ‘God’—or at least not ‘God’ in the same sense, and if there is only One God, then aren’t there two separate levels of being the One ‘God,’ or the same ‘God’?

3. Is ‘One,’ then—when applied to God—not really ‘one’ [meaning singular, undivided, unique]?  (Perhaps “One” when applied to God means a process of melding together, or ‘uni-fying’ what had previously been three?)

This is a conundrum which commonly arises in interfaith discussion as a logical fallacy and which is usually answered, in good Church Council fashion, through using an analogy of one kind or another, an analogy which depends upon the fluidity of word meanings for its persuasiveness.

For example, does ‘God’ have the same meaning when applied to Jesus as when applied to the Creator? Well, the Christian might logically respond by saying: Jesus is not really ‘God’ (i.e., a noun meaning equivalence to the Creator, that is, ‘the Father’ in Christian terminology) but rather Jesus is ‘divine (i.e., a descriptive adjective, meaning that ‘what God was, so Jesus was, too.’ The difficulty does not recede, however:

1. Is Jesus ‘God’ or ‘divine’ in his ESSENCE, being of the same essence as God’s essence?  (Does ‘divine essence’ mean the same thing when applied to Jesus as when applied to the Creator, God?)

2. Or, did Jesus live as a human being displaying ‘godly’ CHARACTERISTICS in a perfect way, out of total commitment to God-conscious obedience based on divine revelation?

If the latter, then why not call him a ‘prophet’?! This is what Muslims mean by the term ‘prophet.’ [In fact, some in the early centuries did call Jesus a ‘prophet,’ but they were outvoted and shunned by history. More about such Christians in later installments.]

Unfortunately, ‘prophet’ is not what the Church authorities had in mind in their deliberations during the 4th through 8th centuries—and especially not after the 7th century when Islam had begun to gain converts from among formerly Christian populations.

SON OF GOD ‘ ?

In defining the nature of Jesus, the Church settled on something more akin to the Greek pagan concept of ‘son of an immortal god ‘ [from a human mother], meaning: A person whose spirit or ‘genius’ was supernaturally endowed. This category included figures like Alexander the Great, as well as emperors of Egypt, Rome, China and Japan, who had been honored with a title claiming a ‘sonship’ relationship to the Ultimate Power.

Jesus came to be defined as the ‘only begotten Son’ of God, meaning born of God’s essence, and accordingly worthy of worship. Notice the exclusivity signaled by ‘only’—in effect denying that other mortals had ever belonged to, or attained to, such a state.

Mainline Christians today believe that the One God consists of three ‘persons’: Father, Son and Holy Spirit—a doctrine of the Church which is nowhere found as such in the Christian Scriptures. How can this be? How is it that this Trinitarian doctrine is not a belief in three ‘God’s (—or, more logically ‘god’s)?

FURTHER QUESTIONS TO EXPLORE

Further, what did Jesus—as recorded in the Gospel books of the New Testament—mean when he called God his ‘Father’ and when he referred to himself as ‘son’ in relation to his Father? What is the meaning of ‘holy spirit’ for Christians?  These questions, their implications, and corollaries, were all part of Christian history from the early centuries. In a real sense, they remain enigmas for the majority of adherents today. What is behind such issues and why did they arise?

[To be continued in PART 2]


[i]     Bible references are translations from the American Bible Society’s Good New Bible/ Today’s English Version. 1979. Nelson: New York.

Linda Thayer

Growing up Christian, Dr. Linda Thayer came to realize in her teens, that Jesus as 'divinity' and Jesus as the second 'person' of a 'Godhead' (the doctrine of the 'Trinity') were philosophical constructs, evolved later and not part of the New Testament Gospel books' portrait of the Son of Mary. In her 30's, when working as Bible translations consultant and linguistic advisor in West Africa, she had already added all things Islamic to her reading list, along with Biblical Studies. She has three university degrees in linguistic science (BA, MA, PhD), with a minor in anthropology. She believes that her fellow Muslims need to be current with the thinking and findings of modern Biblical Studies in order to meet Christians halfway in understanding the prophetic mission and personal nature of Jesus. To this end, she writes of the historical phenomenon of the Jesus movement from an interfaith perspective that dovetails with the Quran and ahâdîth.

10 Comments

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  • Charles

    June 1, 2015 - - 9:45 pm

    “Unique” is often badly translated as “only begotten” or “one and only.” According to The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 2, Ed. Colin Brown, “Lit. it means ‘of a single kind’…. It is only distantly related to gennao, beget. The idea of ‘only begotten’ goes back to Jerome who used unigenitus in the Vulg[ate] to counter the Arian claim that Jesus was not begotten but made” (p. 725). Note that the same word is used of Isaac in Hebrews 11:17, although Abraham had seven sons other than Isaac. So, although “one and only” would often be a good translation, since Adam is also called the “son of God” (Luke 3:38), “unique” is the better translation. Note also that Jerome’s change is another example of an editor changing the Bible to fit his own theology.

  • Linda Thayer

    June 3, 2015 - - 10:38 pm

    Charles,

    Thank you for reading our website. We welcome your comments and the chance to respond to your input.

    Your comment is based on a passing remark in my article, not the main thrust of its content, but since you raise several issues, I would like to respond to them as fully as I can without jumping ahead in the series.

    As would be clear to any reader of this series, “Monotheism in Interfaith Exchange,” its intent is primarily to educate our Muslim readers concerning Christian positions which relate to “monotheism”–since some of us listen to and/or engage in philosophical/theological discussion about such subjects. It is important for us Muslims to know that Christians, though claiming to be “monotheists”–since we, as you, so claim–to know that the term for Christians has a different orientation from our pure and simple, unembellished–you might want to say “strict”–understanding.

    For us, a “strict” and literal singularity of Deity is the first principle of the Muslim affirmation of faith. This is in contradiction to the understanding of most Christians and possibly most followers of other faiths, too. It is the repeatedly pronounced and undeniable teaching of the Quran (Koran) and the utterances of Prophet Muhammad (whose utterances and doings have been meticulously recorded, authenticated by an elaborate process, and collectively known as “Hadith”) that this singularity of the Transcendent Deity (in Arabic “Allah”) has been the clear foundational principle revealed to mankind from Adam on, through all prophets. In a word, only God is, strictly speaking, “unique.” One can go wrong in a number of ways, but if one goes wrong on this foundational principle, one opens oneself to increasingly complex issues, as exemplified by the wranglings of the 4th century Church Synods. And this is the point of emphasizing the absolute “otherness” and “unlikeness to anything else” of mankind’s Creator and Lord, Who alone has the right to speak to what is truth (not religious bodies) and to what are mankind’s frames of reference and limits, if we want to please Him.

    # # #

    As a Muslim–and not as a Christian–it is not my place to argue which side of the theological fence is the correct one, or “more correct,” position in things Christian, for such things as the best English translation of the Greek New Testament word, “monogenes.” See the below link to Wikipedia, which discusses the Greek language term as found in the Logos passage of the Gospel of John. (This Logos passage is discussed later in our series.)

    The Wikipedia link notes the use of “Only-Begotten Son” as a definitive term found in the 4th/5th century “Hymn of Justinian.” This Greek “monogenes” of course is paralleled by the Latin term “unigenitus”–which you mention–as used by the 4th century Roman church scholar Jerome, who put most of the Bible into what would become an officially approved Latin. His “Vulgate” Bible became the standard, authorized version of Christian scripture for the Western [Roman Catholic] Church and held its privileged position in Catholic scholarship, I understand, until relatively recent times. The Eastern Orthodox Church, of course, continued to use New Testament (“Koine”) Greek in their authoritative text and as their liturgical language:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Orthodox_Church#Bible

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_language#Christianity

    You can argue that the Greek term monogenes, or the Latin term unigenitus, means–or sometimes means–something other than the troublesome “begotten” by God (“begotten” in the same sense that a human is “begotten” by his/her parents), but does it really negate the Church’s historical process of defining their concept of “divinity” in application to Jesus? I mean “troublesome” in the face of so many philosophical conundrums that arise from the assertion that Jesus, or any other human being, could have a “divine” nature or essence. And that is what the Arian controversy (which you refer to in your quoted source)–as so many other early theological controversies–was about. To the point, what was understood by the early bishops by this term, whether they were Western/ Latin-speaking or Eastern/Greek-speaking?

    They argued for centuries about the implications of the meaning of the Greek concept and term “son of God” as applied to Jesus–since this term appears in the New Testament narratives of Jesus. It would be essential to know what Jesus meant when he used this term and when he accepted its use by others, and how it was understood by his hearers in his Jewish/ Hebrew-language context. Since Hebrew belongs to a different language family from Greek and Latin, and thus has different semantic fields, one needs to be clear about those Hebrew semantic fields before translating its meaning into Greek/ Latin/ English, etc.

    As is known in Biblical textual studies, “only begotten” had appeared in some English translations of John 3:16, but has been dropped from more modern translations simply because of scholarly agreement that this phrase is not well-attested in the best manuscripts of that verse. It is considered to have been “added” to the text of that verse by some well-meaning Churchmen who believed that the text actually implied or essentially meant “only begotten” and who wanted to make this eternal verity “clear” to those detractors in the controversy.

    I did not mean to make an important point in mentioning “only-begotten” except to mention a phrase that has been part of the development of development of Christian doctrine.

    # # #

    As for your reference in the Genesis account to Abraham’s son of sacrifice as being his “only [= only-begotten]” son, it is important that this son was the only [begotten] one at the time because the prospect of putting an end to that son’s life would threaten the possibility that Abraham could ever have the “many descendants,” as promised to him by God (Genesis 16:10; 17:16; 22:15).

    In what sense would that son of Abraham be “unique” in the “son of sacrifice” passage, Genesis 22) other than that he was the only one born/begotten at that time? It is important to know that Abraham’s first-born son, Ishmael, was his only [begotten] son for some 14 years up until the birth of his son Isaac: Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born (according to Genesis 16:15) and 100 when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5).

    This picture would agree with the account in the Quran that Abraham’s son of sacrifice was actually Ishmael, the first-born son, and not Isaac! The text of Genesis 22 repeats “only son” enough times (verses 2, 12, 16) that it is possible to imagine that “Isaac” was inserted into the text (verses 2, 6, 7 [twice]) later on so as to accord with a preference for Isaac, the son of Sarah, by those who assembled the Hebrew texts into a collection. … How can one say that Ishmael does and does not count as Abraham’s first-born son? ! To understand that the son of sacrifice was Isaac, in that he was “unique” and not the first born son doesn’t make sense. Many descendants were promised through both sons to Abraham by God.

    As you say, there were further sons of Abraham later by a third wife, according to Genesis 25 in the Biblical record–so Abraham’s test of faith happened before any of the other sons had been born.to call Isaac the “unique” son to avoid a conflict in the text, looses the import of God’s promise to Abraham. Abraham could suffer the loss of his second son and still expect descendants through his first, and still-living son. Abraham’s drama is about keeping his faith in the face of a command seemingly to destroy his only hope for descendants when no other son seemed possible. While Abraham – Isaac -Jacob are important in Hebrew tradition (as in the Quran), God at the same time kept his promise of blessings through Ishmael (Genesis 21:11-13). It was through Abraham’s first-born son, Ishmael, that the Arab prophet Muhammad had his genealogy, but more about that later in the series.

    Since the Quran portrays the recipients of previously revealed “Books” of scripture as having corrupted their sacred texts (to bolster their contending theological positions or for other personal temporal gains), Muslims are careful to weigh the content of biblical texts (and other religious scriptures in our hands today) against the standard of the Quran, which claims to be, among other things, a corrective of corruptions and wrong developments on the part of those entrusted with revelation in earlier times. If you read through the Quran, you will note how much it confirms the stories in the Bible and how much it is careful to correct important details.

    In regard to your reference to the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, 11:17-19 (which names Isaac as Abraham’s son of sacrifice) of course this was not written by Jesus. Its writer presumably follows the tradition expressed in the traditional Genesis text. Since Jesus did not write, or even approve of, the text of the New Testament, one has to bring up the question of the authority on which the historical Church approved the documents that went into Christian Scripture. And that, too, is a topic for later discussion.

    As a Biblical Studies student, I love the accounts of Jesus and personally judge them as largely trustworthy. I do not want to “let the cat out of the bag” so to speak, at this point, but as you read through my series, you will see where I believe the Church to have gone wrong. I hope you will continue to read on and I welcome your similar informed comment on the other content of my “Monotheism” series.

    # # #

    Regarding one last issue mentioned in your comment on “Monotheism – Part 1”: Yes, the Gospel of Luke 3:38–in tracing the lineage of Jesus back to Adam, through Joseph–that is, through Mary’s betrothed, then husband, and not through Mary herself, Jesus’ virgin mother–this verse refers, enigmatically, to Adam as “son of God.” So then, Jesus cannot be either a “unique” or an “only-begotten” son of God if Adam, too, is “son of God” ! Please watch for my discussion of the meaning of this term “son of God”–in general and as applied to Jesus–in later segments of this series.

    Linda Thayer

  • Charles

    June 4, 2015 - - 4:13 am

    We are agreed in a “strict” understanding of monotheism and that the non-Jewish Christians have elevated Jesus to a position beyond what he actually was as a human being. In making this argument, however, we need to be careful and accurate about how the message of Jesus got distorted. For myself, it’s not Paul who was at fault. He does teach an elevated and mystical version of Jesus, but it’s a version that is found in Judaism and wasn’t original with him. As you note, Jesus himself made some cryptic remarks about the Son of Man coming on the clouds, which shows that Jesus was not only familiar with some elevated version of the messiah but in some ways accepted it. And as you mention somewhere, the non-Jewish Christians didn’t have the historical roots and understanding of Judaism and shifted into their pagan backgrounds for interpreting Paul’s message and also these remarks of Jesus.

    • Linda Thayer

      June 4, 2015 - - 4:37 pm

      I am glad that you agree that the message of Jesus got distorted. I do not know whether it is Paul who is at fault or whether, possibly, there is a chain of persons or events involved. I only know that It is Paul who is the one present in the New Testament and associated with a distortion of Jesus’ message. I “blame” the Church for not knowing that the distortion was being made “orthodoxy.” Or, those in the Church who knew did not win out.

  • Charles

    June 4, 2015 - - 4:13 am

    As a Muslim in a conversation with a Christian, arguing that Ishmael was the son to be sacrificed is unlikely to go anywhere. However, explaining how the term “only begotten” would have been understood by a first century Jew who believed that Isaac was the son offered as a sacrifice can help in showing how the non-Jewish church distorted the message of Jesus in the same way that when discussing the phrase “son of God,” “It would be essential to know what Jesus meant when he used this term and when he accepted its use by others, and how it was understood by his hearers in his Jewish/ Hebrew-language context.”

  • Linda Thayer

    June 5, 2015 - - 8:00 am

    My inclusion of the identity of the “son of sacrifice” as Ishmael, rather than Isaac, in our discussion of the meaning of monogenes/ unigenitas as “only-begotten” was intended to indicate that possibly the arguments from your source for “unique” might not hold up. In this instance of word use, the story is that Abraham trusted God’s promise; but being asked to destroy the means for bringing about that promise would have no meaning if Abraham had two sons at that time and only one of them was to be “sacrificed.” The story would make sense only if it was the first and at that time the only (“only-begotten”) biological son of old age who was to be killed.

    x

    You had already brought up the general idea of the possible corruption of the text elsewhere, so I thought you would be open to the suggestion that this Genesis text had been fixed up–I offered credible reason to explain why there would be pressure for this to occur.

    x

    If you are not familiar with the story of this event in the Quran (37:100-111), you might be interested in seeing how Ishmael is portrayed as old enough to willingly submit to whatever was about to happen, if it was really God’s command for his father to carry out this act. Both of them submitted to the father’s understanding that this was required by God.
    x

  • Charles

    June 5, 2015 - - 10:16 am

    The meaning of words change over time. For example, at one time, “nice” meant “silly.” I can’t argue that in a previous century that the meaning of “silly” is wrong. I can only consider what “nice” meant to the people of the earlier time. Whether or not, the text is corrupted, whether or not Ishmael was in fact the one to be sacrificed, whether or not at one time Ishmael was the only son of Abraham, you’re arguing from a perspective that wouldn’t have occurred to a first-century Jew. For them, Isaac was the unique son through whom came the promise of God. So, even if you’re right, it’s irrelevant. The meaning of a text is determined by how the people in a particular time and context understood it.

  • Charles

    June 5, 2015 - - 10:23 am

    “I only know that It is Paul who is the one present in the New Testament and associated with a distortion of Jesus’ message.”

    This is a type of argument used against Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and against Islam by non-believers when terrorists distort the message given to him from Allah.

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