Did Jesus Claim to Be God? Muslims Say “No”
In No God but One: Allah or Jesus?, Nabeel Qureshi investigates the evidence for Islam and Christianity as a former Muslim. One of the most important parts to his investigation is his engagement with the widest point of divergence between the two religions: the person of Jesus.
“At no point is the schism between Christian and Islamic theologies broader than on the person of Jesus” (213) Qureshi reveals.
Answering his question about not only Jesus’ divinity, but his claim to be God, was a crucial one for his journey from seeking Allah to finding Jesus. “All other differences between Muslims and Christians were secondary to me, far less important than this most significant matter.” (213)
Below we explore this surprising claim by Muslims, that Jesus never claimed to be God, while showing that the Gospels prove otherwise.
“Jesus Never Claimed to Be God,” Says Islam
“The Quran informs Muslims that Jesus never claimed to be divine,” Qureshi explains. “Rather, people began to believe this after Jesus left the earth (5.116–117).” Furthermore, “the Quran teaches the he who subscribes to [the doctrine of a divine Christ] will make his home in the flames of hell (5:72).” (213) This belief rests on several premises, including:
- Roman paganism influenced Christians to deify Jesus, given that Romans gods were thought to have sons who were demigods
- Paul manufactured this blasphemy in a way Jesus’ early followers never intended
- The Council of Nicaea was responsibility for glorifying Jesus to a divine level
- Jesus never claimed to be God; never clearly said, “I am God”
- Verses from the Gospels seem to deny Jesus’ deity
Regarding this last point, Muslim apologists argue “there are many verses isolated from the Gospels readily used by Muslims to argue Jesus explicitly denied divine status” (223), one in particular is John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
This verse was one of Qureshi’s favorites, because it virtually mirrors the Islamic shahada: “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” He writes, “As far as I was concerned, this verse showed that Jesus’ teachings were very similar to Islam’s, and that he denied being God, saying that the Father is the ‘only true God.’” (224)
That “Jesus never claimed to be God” was a cornerstone of confidence for Qureshi’s denial of the Christian faith, as it is for Muslims. And yet, as he himself read and explored the Gospels, he discovered otherwise—particularly with the Gospel of Mark.
Jesus’ First Biography Is Clear: Jesus Is God
We could go in several directions in showcasing how the New Testament portrays Jesus as God, but we’re going to briefly trace one vein of Qureshi’s own investigation: Mark’s Gospel.
Originally, he argued, “had Jesus actually claimed to be God, we would have found his deity taught in the first of the four Gospels, Mark. So I set out to show [his friend] David that Mark presented Jesus as just a man, not God…” (216) Instead, after he realized that Mark was a very Jewish Gospel and then read it through that lens, he realized “not only does Mark present Jesus as divine, but the very point of Mark’s Gospel is Jesus is Yahweh.” (216)
Qureshi came to several realizations:
- Mark’s prologue is like John’s: it presents Jesus as God himself
- Jesus claimed the divine prerogative of forgiving sins (2:3–10)
- Jesus did what only God can do, heal (2:3–10) and calm the wind and the waves (4:35–41)
Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of not only Jesus’ deity, but his claiming to be God, is Mark 14:55–64. Qureshi spends considerable time in this episode, where Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin on his way to the cross. Eventually, the high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Here was his response:
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Here, Jesus made a twofold reference to the divine Son of Man from Daniel 7 and the sovereign Lord of David from Psalm 110—equating himself with both. Qureshi argues, “In response to the question ‘Who are you?’ Jesus’ response is essentially, ‘I am the One who deserves eternal worship from all mankind in My own kingdom, where I will sit on the very throne of God. I am Yahweh.’” (220)
Qureshi concludes, “we see Mark’s endeavor is clear: He portrays Jesus as Yahweh.” (218)
“Having always believed that the doctrine of Jesus’ deity was invented decades if not centuries after Jesus’ death, I realized that the Islamic explanation for the Christian beliefs does not work.” (233)
Continue the investigation for Islam and Christianity by engaging Qureshi’s book to understand how the evidence led him to concluded Jesus himself claimed to be God—and was God.