Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
Epigraph: The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a Messenger; surely, Messengers like unto him had indeed passed away before him. And his mother was a truthful woman. They both used to eat food. See how We explain the Signs for their good, and see how they are turned away. (Al Quran 5:75/76)
If humanity could have consensus about the nature of Jesus, the two billion Christians, a billion and a half Muslims and some 15 million Jews, of the Abrahamic faiths, will be coming closer and many a religious, social and political struggles will be dampened, if not eliminated.
This is an age old question. According to the Gospel of Mark, the first person to ask this question was Jesus himself, “But what about you Peter?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29)
In modern terminology, we will phrase this question as, is Jesus one person, two persons, human and divine, or multiple personalities?
The early Christians thought of him in different ways, a Jewish prophet, a teacher, a rabbi and even as God incarnate. However, the group that won the theological and political debates in history, is referred to as proto-orthodox group. These were those who were later applauded or cherished by the Catholic Church, as it came to believe that Jesus had two natures, perfect man and fully divine.
This to me would seem like two persons?
But, if we go with the understanding of Trinity, we are told that it is three persons and one essence, God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Ghost. If Jesus is counted as two, it will make the Trinity a Tetrad. We do not want to do that, do we? So, going by the counting in Trinity Jesus would be one person.
Now, if we are to conceive of him as one person, somehow Jesus the man and Jesus the God have to merge into a co-existing hybrid. In other words, when we meet Jesus in the accounts of the canonical Gospels, he should be simultaneously man and God. But, this never or seldom happens. Every time we see him as vulnerable, like eating, drinking, sleeping, weeping, quibbling, claiming not to know, equivocating about his mission of dying on the cross, we are told that it is the vulnerable human part of Jesus.
So, many have asked, where is the divine Jesus in the Gospels? In response to this we are given a few verses here and there like the opening part of the Gospel of John and for example, “’Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” (John 8:58) We are also told that Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) It may be that these verses need to be understood better in the fullest context.
At any rate, we have some verses in the Gospels, which can be interpreted as alluding to divine Jesus.
But, where is the Hybrid Jesus, who is simultaneously man and God?
In animal kingdom we do have hybrids and a cross between a horse and a zebra is sometimes referred to as zorse. However, we can have hybrids only between similar animals, we cannot have a hybrid between a horse and an elephant or a horse and a fish, for example.
I have tried to imagine a man-God or a god-man and with my Muslim biases I cannot. May be the Trinitarian Christians have a special gift and they have brighter imagination!
So, to be doubly sure, I tried to imagine a man, who is also an apple. This took me to Alice’s world of wonderland, and I realized that on planet earth, it is hard to conceive of a man, who is a rock and an apple at the same time.
Is Jesus a man, a God or a hybrid?
To address this issue at greater length, I went on a simple journey of reading the Gospel of Mark, which is the earliest Gospel and is likely to have least degree of exaggerations and half-truths, to see, when Jesus is a man, a God or a hybrid.
I generally read the New International Version, for its modern and freely flowing language.
My presentation from the Gospel of Mark is not an exhaustive study, but, I have tried to at least pick up, one instance, from every chapter.
Those who get the idea and do not want to be bored with the details of Gospel of Mark, can catapult to the ending and read the Epilogue of my article.
The opening verse reads, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” However, a footnote in the New International Version tells us, “Some manuscripts do not have the Son of God.” He was baptized and that should be human, “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
Additionally, if he is baptized by John the Baptist, it gives John a higher spiritual status than Jesus, may peace be on him.
Very soon after being baptized Jesus goes to wilderness and is tempted by Satan. God cannot be tempted so it is perhaps the human Jesus, especially because Jesus did not go on his own initiative, but was sent by the Holy Spirit, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.”
There is another verse that shows him to be son of God. However, in this verse, he does not appear to be co-equal or co-eternal with God the Father, as the statement is rather patronizing and paternalistic, “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”
No where in this chapter or any where else do I see, where he is both human and God. Perhaps some Christian apologists will show me in the comment section. Perhaps it is an oxymoron, how can anyone be finite and infinite at the same time, material and Transcendent at the same time.
In this chapter and many others Jesus also performs exorcisms:
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1:22-27)
In this day and age of neurology, psychology and psychiatry, if anyone were to perform exorcism, on most counts, he will be considered an uninformed man, to say the least.
Many Christians conveniently forget that the New Testament was written in a time, when ghosts and demons were common place and one frequently encountered gods as well, as 90% of the Roman Empire was pagan. Is it surprising that a Jewish prophet, who showed some miracles, came to have some divine colors.
In this chapter we find out that Jesus eats, “When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” I have never known that God eats, so I will say this is human Jesus.
In the last two verses he calls himself son of man and acknowledges that Sabbath is for men, presumably denying his divinity, “Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” It is worthwhile to note that capitalization of the expression, ‘Son of Man,’ is a more recent creation and has no foundation in Greek manuscripts.
We read in this chapter, “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’” I guess his mother and brothers were not gods, as Christianity is not a polytheistic religion.
Here we find out that Jesus needs to sleep to recuperate, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’”
Apparently Jesus did not know what is going on, but, he did wake up to show a miracle, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”
This did over awe the disciples, “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”
Perhaps they were not smart enough to question, why does he have to sleep, as God does not?
Jesus, may peace be on him, unknowingly performs a miracle, “And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.”
The Christians like to read Jesus’ divinity in his miracles, but, according to Islamic and Jewish understanding, all prophets of God have performed miracles, when God so willed, like the parting of the red sea by the prophet Moses, may peace be on him.
In this chapter, Jesus claims to be a prophet and shows his inability to show miracles, perhaps revealing his humanity, through his lack of omnipotence. We read:
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. (Mark 6:1-4)
In this chapter there is a parable to show that Jesus was sent only to the children of Israel, we read:
A woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (Mark 7:25-30)
Towards the end of the chapter, Jesus heals a deaf and mute man, “After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means ‘Be opened!’). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.”
Jesus shows one of his biggest miracles and feeds a crowd of four thousand. But, whether Jesus is a man, a God or a hybrid, it seems he is bent on hiding his identity, raising the question, why would God want to hide:
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:27-30)
Jesus shows the miracle of transfiguration, “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”
But, he still refers to himself, as son of man and is still scared to death to reveal his identity, “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead,” as if others could prevent ‘Son of Man,’ from rising from the dead!
In this chapter, Jesus gives us an impractical teaching, which all of Christianity has now abandoned, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on a colt and among other things calls God the Father, to be the father of all of humanity, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Jesus tells us that rising from the dead is spiritual, “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” But, in Jesus rising on Sunday morning, we see that the stone needed to be removed, he ate food, his body is hurting, he is still afraid and hiding and Thomas is able to touch his wounds. Remember, what Senator Joseph McCarthy told us, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”
Jesus prophesies his return or second coming, within a generation and calls himself ‘Son of Man.’ It has been two thousand years and we are still waiting, even though he said:
At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
Unlike, God the Father, the ‘Son of Man’ does not seem to know the future!
Jesus eats his last supper and goes to Garden of Gethsemane. Can God be depressed and scared? But, Jesus is! He says to his disciples, “’My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’”
He is neither omnipotent nor omniscient and prays to God the Father like all of us, the mortals, “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”
Jesus is put on the cross and what are allegedly his last words? We read, “And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)’”
Jesus still seems a mortal, a mere human, one who is expecting help from God the Father and a rescue at the eleventh hour!
The most dramatic finding in this chapter is a confession, in the New International Version, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.” The earliest manuscripts ended with the verse, which mentions the women running away from the empty tomb, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
In other words in the original Gospel of Mark there were no post-crucifixion sighting or Jesus’ ascension.
Apparently, Jesus rose in a physical body rather than a spiritual one, as the stone was moved, perhaps again stressing his humanity. We read in the beginning of this chapter, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.”
So, the “resurrection” was physical, it was perhaps a resuscitation!
As we cannot imagine a man, who is an apple and a rock at the same time, it is not humanly possible to imagine a man-god or a god-man and many a Christians who convert to Islam describe their difficulty with the concept of Trinity and nature of Jesus.
A lot has been written about Trinity, by the Christian authors and sometimes we hear about eternal love between the three persons of Trinity, but, we are seldom informed about the two natures of Jesus. We are not told, how the two interact and which prevails in any given moment or how and when both co-exist, in complete harmony.
May be some of the Christian apologists with national and international fame, like Prof. William Lane Craig and James White can start explaining to us the above quotes from the Gospel of Mark, as to why human or the divine side of Jesus, sprang out in those instances.
For the rest of the two billion Christians, my humble suggestion is that rather than focusing on questions, which are not central to theology of the Abrahamic faiths, like, what was the age of Aisha, when she married the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, how many virgins the martyrs will get in the heavens, what proportion of the Muslims are terrorists etc., we need to focus on what is fundamental to theology and our salvation. If we focus on nature of Jesus, nature of man and biological evolution and basic principles of salvation, we will be led to the truth, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)