There can be a lot of misunderstanding in this area, and it is important to articulate clearly to our Muslim friends what Christians actually believe. The term ‘Son of God’ is particularly problematic and needs to be explained carefully. We of course do not believe that Jesus is the biological offspring of God – as if a Roman demi-god – though He was conceived on earth miraculously by the Holy Spirit. Unpacking the Bible’s support of the incarnation and the Trinity requires us to be good students of Scripture and of doctrine. If we don’t know why we believe what we do, how will we explain it to others?
Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 1 that the cross seems like foolishness to those that reject its message. For Muslims this is certainly true, as they claim that Jesus never died on the cross, but it was only made to appear that way. A key concern for Islam is to protect the honour of its prophets; the Qur’an’s depictions of figures of the faith are much more sympathetic than the Bible, often omitting their sins and failures. In a similar way, Jesus’ death is perceived as a disgrace that God would not have allowed to occur. The Qur’an is ambiguous as to how this happened, so Muslims often claim that He was swapped for another person, or that He ‘swooned’ and woke up later. Likewise, Jesus’ death is not seen to have been necessary for the forgiveness of sins.
This claim is an issue in a couple of ways. Firstly, it suggests that God deliberately deceived those witnessing the crucifixion, including the followers of Jesus. The Church was founded then on this supposedly false belief. Another problem is the belief that Jesus’ death was unnecessary. From a Christian perspective, this does not adequately address the severity of sin or the holiness of God. No amount of works would ever be enough to bring salvation, only the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
In our next article, we will consider how Muslim perceptions of Christians can be a stumbling block.
For more specific answers to these questions and more, check out the Hicham series.
Take a look at recommended resources on mission and Islam, to learn more.